Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
'Key & Peele' Will End After Its Current Season 'Key & Peele' Will End After Its Current Season MSNBC Decides: Touré Is Out, Rev. Al Stays (For Now) MSNBC Decides: Touré Is Out, Rev. Al Stays (For Now) Disney Channel & Disney XD Casting Directors Holding Online Casting Call for Diverse Actors, Age 10-17 Disney Channel & Disney XD Casting Directors Holding Online Casting Call for Diverse Actors, Age 10-17 Oprah Winfrey Presents Landmark 7-Night Event Series 'Belief' Premiering October 18 (Trailer) Oprah Winfrey Presents Landmark 7-Night Event Series 'Belief' Premiering October 18 (Trailer) Watch 5 Clips From TV One Original Movie 'Runaway Island' - Premieres This Saturday, July 25 Watch 5 Clips From TV One Original Movie 'Runaway Island' - Premieres This Saturday, July 25 Samira Wiley to Co-Star in Film Based on Kitty Genovese 1964 Murder Samira Wiley to Co-Star in Film Based on Kitty Genovese 1964 Murder MTV Has Made Its 'White People' Documentary Available Online - Watch It Here MTV Has Made Its 'White People' Documentary Available Online - Watch It Here MSNBC Is Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place with Rev. Al (Demote Him or Let Him Go?) MSNBC Is Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place with Rev. Al (Demote Him or Let Him Go?) LeBron James Inks "Unprecedented Agreement" with Warner Bros. Spanning Film, TV, Digital LeBron James Inks "Unprecedented Agreement" with Warner Bros. Spanning Film, TV, Digital "New Money, New Power" in 'Empire' Season 2 First Look Video Promo "New Money, New Power" in 'Empire' Season 2 First Look Video Promo Don Cheadle's 'Miles Ahead' Will World Premiere as the Closing Night Film at the 53rd New York Film Festival Don Cheadle's 'Miles Ahead' Will World Premiere as the Closing Night Film at the 53rd New York Film Festival What TV Critics Are Saying about MTV's 'White People' Documentary + Watch 3 Clips What TV Critics Are Saying about MTV's 'White People' Documentary + Watch 3 Clips Check Out the Official Theatrical Trailer for Stanley Nelson’s 'The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution' Check Out the Official Theatrical Trailer for Stanley Nelson’s 'The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution' Watch Documentary Web Series 'Pretty' - About Black Women, Beauty and Self Esteem (You’ll Be Happy You Did) Watch Documentary Web Series 'Pretty' - About Black Women, Beauty and Self Esteem (You’ll Be Happy You Did) Starz Announces Return Date for Original Series 'Power' + New Key Art + Trailer Starz Announces Return Date for Original Series 'Power' + New Key Art + Trailer Why Was Janet Hubert (Aunt Viv) Really Replaced on 'Fresh Prince of Bel-Air'? Buzzfeed Investigates Why Was Janet Hubert (Aunt Viv) Really Replaced on 'Fresh Prince of Bel-Air'? Buzzfeed Investigates Third 'Best Man' Movie Gets a Title, an Official 2016 Release Date & A Most Unexpected Wedding Third 'Best Man' Movie Gets a Title, an Official 2016 Release Date & A Most Unexpected Wedding Aaron McGruder Finally Explains Why He Left 'The Boondocks' Aaron McGruder Finally Explains Why He Left 'The Boondocks' Netflix Explains Why It Doesn't Always Have That Film Or TV Show You Really Want To See (Video) Netflix Explains Why It Doesn't Always Have That Film Or TV Show You Really Want To See (Video) Tichina Arnold Says She Talked To Martin Lawrence About Doing A 'Martin' Movie... Tichina Arnold Says She Talked To Martin Lawrence About Doing A 'Martin' Movie...

Review: Good Performance By Andre Benjamin Isn't Enough To Bolster Hendrix Biopic 'All Is By My Side'

Shadow and Act By Zeba Blay | Shadow and Act March 7, 2014 at 10:45AM

Review: Good Performance By Andre Benjamin Isn't Enough To Bolster Hendrix Biopic
3
Andre 3000 Hendrix

A little over a decade ago, VH1 premiered one of its many mediocre television biopics, Hendrix. Playing well against type, Wood Harris starred as the iconic guitarist, alongside Vivica A. Fox (as girlfriend/groupie Faye Pridgeon), and Billy Zane. A general overview of Hendrix’s life, the film chronicled his time playing with black artists like Little Richard, his period as a recording artist in London, his breakthrough performance at the legendary Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, and his untimely death at the age of 27. It had all the hallmarks of most rock ‘n roll biopics: the tough childhood, the discovery of genius, the hit single, the hard partying, the groupies, the hangers-on, the drug problems, the fall from grace. But it was missing something, one major element. The music.

 

Getting music rights has been an uphill battle in many a musical biopic, and last year, with the announcement that a new Hendrix movie called All is By My Side was set to begin production, getting rights to the rocker’s extensive discography once again became an obstacle for filmmakers. Hendrix’s estate withdrew all support for the movie, and barred writer-director John Ridley (who paradoxically also wrote 12 Years a Slave and Undercover Brother) from using seminal Hendrix songs like ‘Purple Haze’, ‘The Wind Cries Mary’ and the ‘Hey Joe’ cover in the movie. Ridley, determined to tell his version of the Hendrix story, sidestepped this slight inconvenience by crafting a story set specifically before the debut of Are You Experienced.

Andre Benjamin plays Hendrix, discovered by Keith Richards’ girlfriend Linda Keith (Imogen Poots) while playing backup guitar at New York’s Cheetah Club. The two strike up a romantically-tinged friendship, as Linda works tirelessly at helping him find a manger and get a record deal. Eventually, under the management of former Animals member Chas Chandler (Andrew Buckley), Hendrix moves to London, shacks up with feisty party girl Kathy Etchingham (Hayley Atwell), and begins his journey towards starting The Jimi Hendrix Experience and becoming one of if not the greatest guitar players of all time.

That’s a straightforward summary, but this is anything but a straightforward, VH1-esque approach to the Hendrix story. Benjamin, in contrast to Wood Harris’s well-intentioned but slightly caricaturistic performance, plays Jimi with an ease, a subtlety, a musicality that is easily identifiable in any interview of the rocker when he was alive. It’s a miracle that he’s able to get anything out of the character at all, with a script that gives him very little to work with in the way of dialogue, as Ridley plays up the more shy, more vague qualities of the real life Hendrix.

And while music does abound throughout the narrative, with covers of Muddy Waters, the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones, this is not a movie about Hendrix and his relationship with music. If anything, its about Hendrix’s relationships with other people, specifically the women in his life. There were many, but here Ridley chooses to focus on Keith, Etchingham, and a character named Ida (Ruth Negga), most likely based on real-life groupie Devon Wilson. Ridley plays up the link to Linda Keith, spending too much time setting up and exploring a wearyingly boring almost love-affair between her and Hendrix, and crediting her for influencing his style, his music, even the way he wore his hair. Whether or not any or all of this was actually the case is irrelevant. That their story ultimately goes nowhere interesting, though, makes the time spent with her all the more perplexing.

To its credit, the movie is also unafraid of complicating its portrait of the artist by also presenting some of the (allegedly) unsavory elements of Hendrix’s personality. His image as a sensitive rock god is skewed with several scenes in which he is an insanely jealous, possessive, and abusive boyfriend toward Etchingham. And, very much mirroring the way Hendrix is written throughout, the film is relatively indifferent on Hendrix’s issues with women, or his issues with race, or even his issues with his own difficult background.

Disjointed and non-linear in style, from time to time the movie employs weird filters and grainy stock footage and newsreels of pop culture from the time - Twiggy, hippies, etc. These feel more like gimmicks than necessary additions to the story. Indeed, rather than telling a story, any story about Hendrix, what’s happening here is maybe an attempt at capturing the spirit of Hendrix. It doesn’t work. When it ends, rather abruptly, we’re left with only the vaguest sense of what, exactly, is trying to be conveyed. What’s left is a good performance by Benjamin, some interesting set pieces, and the general feeling that something, still, is missing.

It next screens at the SXSW Film Festival, which runs from March 7 - 16, 2014 in Austin, TX.


Zeba Blay is a Ghanaian-born film and culture writer based in New York. She is a contributor to Huffington Post, Africa Style Daily, and Slant Magazine. She co-hosts the weekly podcast Two Brown Girls, and runs a personal movie blog, Film Memory. Follow her on Twitter @zblay.

This article is related to: Andre Benjamin, John Ridley


Shadow & ActNewsletter