Monday, 26 January 2015

DVD Review: Jimi: All is by my Side

Year: 2013 (U.K Release 2015)
Director: John Ridley
Screenplay: John Ridley
Starring: Andre Benjamin, Hayley Atwell, Imogen Poots


Synopsis is here:


John Ridley's biopic of Jimi Hendrix; Jimi: All is by my Side, is a frustrating experience. Its subject is one of the most influential musicians of the modern age, yet the film doesn't feel wholly invested in him. It's a film in which its main subject believes in giving everything he does a sense of vividness and flamboyance, and yet none of the film approaches the ideal. This is a film about Jimi Hendrix, but only superficially.

Jimi: All is by my Side sets itself in London 1966 before Hendrix travels back to America and the release of his band's seminal debut: Are You Experienced. Played up as an interesting a pivotal point in Hendrix's life, it feels more like the year was picked as the production couldn't obtain any of the music Hendrix wrote. Such a limitation wouldn't be an issue if the film had handled any of its drama with any subtlety. However, Ridley's screenplay is a hodge-podge of lackluster melodrama, bland musical performances and awkwardly shoehorned scenes. What little conflict the film drums up is quickly resolved or forgotten about before the scene ends. While the drama the film does bring up is the type of tried cliché usually seen in more dubious made for T.V biopics.

The most upsetting thing is that All is by my Side has come from the Oscar winning Ridley, whose blistering work on 12 Years a Slave is miles apart from what we have here. The film's screenplay lacks focus, and Ridley does very little to give the narrative a cohesive through line. Moments that should be defining are hastily constructed. Was Eric Clapton really that stunned by Hendrix's playing? If so, why does that moment feel like such a footnote? The same goes for Hendrix's relationship with his father, which is regulated to a limp, one sided telephone call. It feels so tenuous that it could have easily been left on the cutting room floor.

Ridley then tries to force race into the film with little reason other than to try and illustrate his own feelings on it. There seems to be little reason to have Hendrix quibbling with white policemen or holding a dumbed down argument between Jimi and conterversal Black Revolutionary Michael X (Adrian Lester), but both appear with the sole purpose of making sophomoric statements about race. They do little to show how such matters affected Hendrix and his playing, whether or not such aspects ever did alter his views of music at all. 

All by my Side's saving grace (save for a bright performance of Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club) is the performances. While none of the cast has much to work with in terms of depth, the energy they give to their roles is more than substantial. Andre Benjamin certainly looks the part as Hendrix, although the character itself is more of a caricature of what people think the artist was like. Both Atwell and Poots give their flat characters the life they need to make them watchable. It's a shame that Ridley's script doesn't particularly like women, having both characters doing little more than serving the male character. For a film set against the sexual revolution, the depiction of women is quite disappointing.

Jimi: All is by my Side is an awkward and miscalculated piece with has nothing reaching the intensity of the musician's guitar playing. From its visually drab photography to it's on the nose dialogue, the film jumps unremarkably from scene to scene with little flair or verve. It's clear that the cast entered this with the best intentions in mind, but it seems that the life of Jimi Hendrix needed someone who had a clearer vision to lift some of the purple haze.