Netflix UK film review: Jimi: All Is By My Side
Ivan Radford | On 24, Oct 2014
Director: John Ridley
Cast: Andre Benjamin, Hayley Atwell, Imogen Poots
Watch Jimi: All Is By My Side online in the UK: Netflix UK / Curzon Home Cinema / TalkTalk TV / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play
“I should be able to take any song and do it in a way you haven’t heard before.”
That’s Jimi Hendrix in Jimi: All Is By My Side, a film about the musician that, famously, doesn’t have his music in it. But that bizarre shortcoming turns out to be the movie’s biggest blessing.
John Ridley, fresh from winning an Oscar for his 12 Years a Slave script, tries something completely different as director: where a normal biopic would follow Jimi’s full life story, taking in the highs, the lows, the big breaks, the classic hits, All Is By My Side is alarmingly – yet refreshingly – unconventional. Instead of the famous years, we go back to 1966/7, when the musician headed to London to find fame. Instead of the obvious numbers, we get snatches of covers, if any music at all.
That origins story setting means the absence of Watchtower, Purple Haze, et al. makes sense, but Ridley still toys with our expectations: every time Jimi picks up a guitar, it’s only a few seconds before we cut somewhere else, to a conversation backstage or an argument in a pub afterwards. Every now and then, the screen freezes to insert a title telling us who’s who. Sound bleeds between scenes like smoke wafting between rooms – a haze of creativity. It feels strange, but for audiences willing to take a drag, the impressionistic smoke carries a vibe of its own; at worst, disorienting and fragmented, at best, an aptly freewheeling riff on a formulaic narrative.
Outkast’s Andre Benjamin is outstanding as Jimi, transforming into the softly-spoken, easy-going free-thinker. His hair alone are mesmerising. Harassed by police or questioned by his well-meaning manager, he just shrugs and drifts away to talk about sci-fi, philosophy or music. Benjamin’s supported by two superb female actors: Imogen Poots as the besotted, possessive Linda Keith, who first discovered Jimi, has rarely had a better role to show off her understated range; Hayley Atwell, meanwhile, brings believable laughs, tears and aggression to the tale as lover Kathy Etchingham.
The film’s loose manner applies to history, though, as well as the soundtrack: in real life, Etchingham has been vocal on the inclusion of one scene where Jimi beats her, something that she says never happened. It jars, but perhaps it’s only fitting for a production where Hendrix’s estate and Ridley disagree about whether the withheld music rights were ever requested for the movie in the first place. But what’s certain is the broad spirit of Hendrix as an artist sings loudly on-screen: it’s not about the historical details, but the guitarist’s game-changing legacy. And even then, not about the best-selling compilation but the scrappy build-up that led to it.
“He’s tearing it up!” exclaims one of the many soon-to-be-famous faces that litter the ’60s scene, after hearing Hendrix play. Ridley’s movie may not be a timeless masterpiece, but you experience that same sensation while it’s in full swing: whatever it gets wrong, All Is By My Side shreds the biopic rule book while holding it casually behind its back. The biggest set piece, tellingly, sees Hendrix play Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band as an impromptu opener to a gig attended by Paul McCartney. With Benjamin’s charisma in full flow, it’s an exhilarating moment of fresh talent bursting onto the stage. All Is By My Side is a Jimi Hendrix movie without Jimi Hendrick music. But like the legend, it takes a familiar song and does it in a way you haven’t heard before. It’s an enjoyably scuzzy B-side to Hollywood’s A-track; an experimental cover of a biopic. And that version of Hendrix is thrilling to experience.
Jimi: All Is By My Side is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.