Jimi Hendrix biopic: fact or fiction?

After years of speculation and months of anxious waiting, I finally got to see Jimi: All Is by My Side, a film based on the year leading up to Jimi Hendrix’s arrival as a guitar god. It was almost as wonderful and spot-on and mesmerizing as I hoped it to be, but it definitely had a few things going for it I was not a fan of.

On one hand, André Benjamin, AKA Outkast’s André 3000, was absolutely mind-blowing in his performance as Hendrix. He mastered the lyrical, soft-spoken demeanor the guitarist was so well-known for, and it was easy to forget it was an actor on the screen, not the man himself.

Benjamin also had terrific co-stars, notably Imogen Poots, who told a great story with her interpretation of Linda Keith, former girlfriend of Keith Richards who was key in getting Hendrix to London in 1966.

Something that really bothered me, however, was the dramatization of the relationship between Hendrix and his girlfriend Kathy Etchingham, whom he met almost immediately after landing in London. Real life tells of how the two lived together until they split in ’69, and how she was his muse for the songs “Foxey Lady” and “Wind Cries Mary”, but the movie paints their love as rocky and full of jealousy. Spoiler alert, but there are scenes in the film that depict Hendrix beating Etchingham in the face with a phone, as well as fighting with her in an alley. I was furious when these played out on the screen because I’ve done a lot of research on my most favorite musician of all time, and I’d never once come across accounts of Hendrix being an abuser, let alone anything less than a really good guy.

And so I spent much of the movie wondering if director John Ridley, executive producer of 12 Years A Slave, had unearthed hidden, ugly truths of the guitarist, and I couldn’t wrap my head around it. So many years had passed since Hendrix died in 1970, and it seemed questionable such a blaring fact of his had remained undisclosed until now.

As soon as I got home I began scouring the Internet, and my answer popped up with one Google search – it appears the movie does have some inaccuracies.  Etchingham speaks of how she was never interviewed by the filmmakers, and after learning of the abuse scenes, insisted they were not true. Apparently they responded by saying it was, because they had “thoroughly researched” it. Now, the only place it is written that Hendrix was a violent, abusive man was in Curtis Knight’s Jimi: An intimate biography of Jimi Hendrix, a book the author later revealed he’d never interviewed Etchingham for, or confirmed all the details of. So that’s what they consider thorough research? Pulling from a story not proven to be legit? Not cool.

Another disappointment was the lack of actual Hendrix music in the movie, but that’s not all on the filmmakers – the Hendrix estate refused to allow any of his songs be used in All Is by My Side.  The reasoning is unclear, but it’s likely because his sister Janie has been working on a biopic of her own, which she’ll be including Jimi’s music in. So we’ll just see what becomes of that pending project.

All in all, despite the movie’s major errors, I found All Is by My Side engaging as hell and designed in almost the perfect way to tell of this snapshot in time.  Great use of cinematography, as well as random inclusions of all the Brit rock stars Jimi blew away when he came on the scene. And again, hats off to Benjamin, who clearly put a lot of work into capturing every mannerism and personality quirk the legendary guitarist possessed.

Just in case you’re still trying to decide if you should go see the film (which is ridiculous. Go see it.), take a look at this trailer, which I’m sure will make up your mind for you:

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3 comments

    1. Terrific! The good news is that it’s out in theaters now, as of last Friday, and I got to see it at one of my local cinemas. I know it’s not a widespread release, so you may have to search a bit for where it might be showing in your city, but it should definitely be out there. Good luck!

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