Inconvenient things, facts... and tricky things, biopics. The real lives of real people, no matter how spectacular and eventful, do not always conform either to the specific structural demands of cinematic storytelling nor those of documentary realism. And when your subject is an artist whose work is off-limits to the filmmakers because the owners of the intellectual property do not wish to co-operate with the movie – none of Jimi Hendrix’s own playing is heard here, and neither are any of his own compositions – the stars that play with those particular dice may well find the cosmic odds tilted against them.
In the case of Jimi: All Is By My Side (what is that subtitle supposed to mean, anyway?), very little is on the side of writer-director John Ridley (who scripted 12 Years A Slave). One thing the movie, depicting Hendrix in 1966-7, does indeed have on its side is a title-role performance by André Benjamin (aka Outkast’s André 3000) which belongs in a far better movie: as well as an impressive physical resemblance, he’s got Hendrix’s speech mannerisms and body language down cold and obviously put plenty of effort into learning to finger-synch the guitar left-handed.
Similar hard work has gone into the costumes and art direction, which are gorgeous, and into a few (regrettably, not all, or even most) of the supporting performances. Even without a single note of Hendrix’s own music – the recreations, by Waddy Wachtel, strive mightily but rarely transcend caricature – this could just about have worked were it not for a script which only infrequently escapes banality.
Hendrix himself, as a screen character, remains irritatingly opaque despite Benjamin’s best efforts: the movie not only fails to give us even the faintest hint of what made Real Jimi tick, but cannot even create the illusion of giving us a view of its subject’s inner landscape.
Movies being what they are, the music (which was far and away the most important thing in Hendrix’s life) is sidelined in favour of his – cough – ‘romantic life’, doing so in a toe-curlingly embarrassing manner which leaves his Main London Girlfriend, Kathy Etchingham (played here by Hayley Atwell, most recently seen in Marvel’s Captain America movies) feeling thoroughly and insultingly misrepresented.
We’ll spare the blushes of the actors who deliver such awful impersonations of Keith Richards and Eric Clapton (supporting characters are identified with Big Brother-style captions, and mostly need to be) and make an honourable exception for Andrew Robbins’s engaging turn as Chas Chandler.
Basically: it’s awful. To be viewed only if morbid curiosity remains irresistible./o:p