Sunday, October 5, 2014


Jimi: All is by My Side is the most subdued rock movie ever made. That doesn't make it bad, far from it; it's just *different* is all. Like the protagonist, the movie is loose, not rushing into drama (unless a character makes Jimi get into drama, but he avoids it much as possible), and watching and observing for things to happen. When it has to rock, it does, but writer/director John Ridley wants to almost explore the moments in-between the big ones. When the Jimi Hendrix Experience have a bust gig where they don't end up playing - they just spend their time tuning their instruments - it's a little of that, and then the article about it afterward.

You know, in a way, in how it shows Mr. Hendrix playing and being the bad motherfucker that he was, it's like the recent Godzilla movie. There's just enough of the title character to say that there is THAT in the movie. But there's more to it than the usual action and razzle-dazzle (and unlike Godzilla, there's good human characters around our 'hero'). It's really all about the period where Hendrix - once called Jimmy James when playing with other blues musicians - was discovered by chance by Keith Richards' girlfriend, meets Chas Chandler (the of the Animals) and gets him as a manager, and moves to London to get in on the whole heavy-rock music scene going on ("Clapton is God" does flash on the screen, and one of the memorable moments of the film is when Hendrix managed to upstage Clapton and jam out with Cream in his first time on stage - touche).

The look has that cool, slightly tinged in the past look out of the late 60's/early 70's, and the period is just about perfect. And Andre Benjamin is really a major reason to see the film. He isn't playing Hendrix - he IS Hendrix, in that fashion that certain actors can get in (Kilmer with Morrison comes to mind), in look, cool, voice, and low-key attitude (except for one or two violent moments, which if anything makes him more human and flawed which is important), and makes Hendrix a human being long before any kind of 'rock God' - Benjamin sees that this is a guy who isn't always sure of himself, except, and as a big exception, when he can get on that sage and become imbued with the love of playing. Indeed unlike other recent music biopics like Get On Up, the intriguing thing, scene to scene, with All is By My Side, it's Hendrix's humble, philosophical, and sometimes even nerdy and introspective side (he loved his science fiction) that makes him truly, quietly compelling.

There's also the women in his life, which makes up as much of the conflict in the movie as the question of whether or not he will step up to the challenge of being awesome in front of a lot of people as opposed to small club audiences. The women - i.e. Imogen Poots and Hayley Atwell - are attracted and sometimes repelled by Jimi, and the actresses all have their own range of emotions to play against Benjamin. Do they get too close, or can they not get close enough to a guy who is a shut-in, working on lyrics, not wanting to always be around 'people' (but getting hassled by the cops just for walking down a street with a white woman doesn't help)? 

Ridley is more interested in navigating these quiet scenes with the characters. Except, of course, when things do get tense and dramatic, all to do with recording or who is sitting next to who, and Ridley manages to make this all feel very... real. There's no hyped up melodrama, none of the stuff that you could easily see mocked in Walk Hard, for example. And yet, I wish, maybe for one or two moments, there was a little pizazz or pop. It does come, a bit, near the end, when the Experience plays the opening track to Sgt. Peppers for a full audience (including the Beatles) on the day the album came out, but, again, no other major songs from the man and his group, outside of scattered blues and a few covers.

I (almost) feel bad even trying to criticize it, but it's just personal preference. Some will come across this and find the pacing too loose, too all over the place with some of the editing and how Hendrix's journey goes from A-to-B-to-C. Others may think it's the best, most down-to-Earth rock movie ever made. I'm sort of in the middle, but highly positive, especially as a Hendrix fan it's good history, and even better, probing, simple but complex character studying in terms of trying to to find not just the soul of this man but how he can function and find his way through it - both in love, and (at one point with a black political Brit) issues of the day.

"Lemme say one last thing..."

In other words, it won't necessarily find the large audiences of Ray Charles and Johnny Cash music movies.  But, in its mostly unassuming ways, it's better than the studio standard - in part, by design of the artist's life, by it being a slice of life instead of a slice of a WHOLE life.  The movie could also be called "On the Edge of the Freak Flag".  Or something. 

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