Jimi: All Is by My Side

Oliver Lunn

Apparently, Andre 3000 practiced guitar six hours a day – crucially, left-handed – in order to play 60s guitar titan Jimi Hendrix in All Is by My Side. Does it show? Not really – and I’ll tell you why in a minute. But even so, the Outkast frontman slips comfortably into the legendary boots of the one-of-a-kind fret wizard, freakishly capturing Hendrix’s awkward gesticulating in interviews and that strange intonation in his voice.

After director John Ridley had cast his lead, there remained two monumental challenges for the project. Firstly, the filmmakers were not granted access to the guitarist’s hit-laden catalogue (mainly because another Hendrix biopic is in the works, with approval from sister Janie Hendrix), which meant they couldn’t immediately engage fans by littering their 118-minute film with the guitarist’s greatest hits. Secondly, because of this unfortunate predicament, the filmmakers would have to usher in someone who could create new music that sounded like Hendrix wrote and recorded it back in the mid-60s. And no, this task didn’t fall on the amateur shoulders of Andre "3000" Benjamin.

When you see Benjamin on stage, Fender Strat in hand, plucking that familiar open E string (no one plays an open E like Hendrix did), you suspect there’s a bald, bespectacled man just out of frame, putting those hours of sweaty practice to good use while Andre Benjamin takes all the credit. A quick Google reveals that Waddy Wachtel, legendary session guitarist, was that man; he handles the responsibility of creating new and original material with astonishing aplomb, even though the songs inevitably fail to recreate the magic of the true artist’s work; the ‘soul’ of the music, as Hendrix says in the film.

I’ve purposely dodged talking about the narrative up until now. Mainly because I’m assuming most of us know a bit about Hendrix’s life and music, but really because it’s just not that interesting; it follows Hendrix’s move to Swinging London in 1966, pre-fame, focusing on his early recording sessions, his disastrous first gigs, the lead up to success, and above all, the relationships he had with British women, of which I’m sure there were many more than depicted here. Much is made of how shy, sensitive and softly spoken he was, but also his lesser-known explosively violent side, as seen in a scene where Jimi – completely unwarranted – uses a telephone as a club.

Andre 3000 – along with co-star Imogen Poots as his hoighty-toighty mentor and would-be girlfriend – does much to oil the dry, uneven narrative cogs; there’s a lot of superfluous editing tricks and dodgy freeze-frame character intros (like those irritating Guy Ritchie ones) that come off as a bit wanky. But Ridley does briefly insert some breathtaking family snaps of Hendrix’s home and of him and his father, to spark fleeting moments of rumination.

While it’s hard to see the imminent ‘official’ biopic finding a better Hendrix than Andre 3000, his performance isn’t quite enough to save All Is by My Side, which ultimately feels a little too glossy, like a Hendrix-inspired Vanity Fair fashion spread brought to life on screen. Like Wachtel’s clean guitars (which admittedly do come close to mimicking Hendrix’s trademark Fender Strat sound), the film lacks authenticity; it just isn’t dirty enough, isn’t warm and fuzzy enough like the guitarist's rich, soulful music. In other words, to match Andre 3000’s meticulous performance, it’s like the filmmakers needed to go the whole hog: shoot on film, record everything on analogue equipment. Take note, rival biopic. 

Follow Oliver on Twitter: @OliverLunn

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