Tracking reviews of Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave a second time around, I was particularly impressed by Glenn Kenny‘s appreciation of John Ridley’s screenplay. So I’ve decided to go back and take a look at what was said last month about the film Ridley’s most recently written and directed.
“All Is By My Side is set in 1966 and 1967,” writes EW‘s Owen Gleiberman, “and it tells the story of the year Jimi Hendrix spent in London, working his way toward stardom. The film ends with Hendrix at the airport, heading back to America to perform at the Monterey Pop Festival—the event that instantly made him a star. But in All Is By My Side, he spends most of the movie as just one more aspiring hippie rock star in Swinging London.” John Ridley, “though he penned this movie himself, has worked hard to give it the feeling of being ‘unwritten.’ A lot of the dialogue sounds semi-improvised, and the whole vibe and tone is less a matter of crystalized dramatic events than of sitting around in clubs and apartments, hanging out and drinking and smoking dope, exchanging a lot of casual, half-heard banter about what’s going down. If Robert Altman had made a ’60s rock-star biopic, this is what it might have felt life.”
“The Hendrix estate was not consulted, so his songs remain locked in the vault,” notes Henry Barnes in the Guardian. “In their place are montage and feedback, cross-dialogue, distortion and the odd cover version (Muddy Waters, Dylan, the Beatles). The result… delivers a Jimi Hendrix experience somehow the richer for sidelining the man and subverting his music. Hendrix (an impeccable impression by Outkast’s André Benjamin) is pursued by two women who—through a mixture of love, persistence and straight-up bullying—helped Jimi break the UK. Linda Keith (Imogen Poots) was a sometime model who tired of being just Keith Richards’ girlfriend. She would spot Hendrix playing in New York’s Cheetah bar, introduce him to acid, and eventually hook him up with Chas Chandler (Andrew Buckley)—the former Animals bassist who would become the Experience’s manager. Hayley Atwell plays Kathy Etchingham, the long-term girlfriend whose part in their tempestuous relationship provided inspiration for several Hendrix classics. Both actors are outstanding, but Poots’s performance is her best to date.” And Edward Helmore has a terrific talk with Linda Keith for the Observer.
The Boston Globe‘s Ty Burr notes that “the movie is as astute about the era’s racial politics (and Jimi’s avoidance of them) as it is clear-eyed about his less admirable traits. Ridley doesn’t treat Hendrix as a bio-pic enigma to be explained but simply as an instinctual artist, for better and for worse. The only mystery that remains is where the music came from.”
“Ridley sidestepped the thorny—and expensive—issue of music rights by focusing on an origins story that does not require using music written by Hendrix in his prime,” notes Michael Cieply in the New York Times.
“It’s possible Ridley was too determined to break the rules,” suggests Wesley Morris at Grantland. “For a film that seems awfully focused on Hendrix getting his fix, its fix on Hendrix is almost comically vague.”
Still, the Hollywood Reporter‘s John DeFore finds the film to be “both thoughtful and convincing, sympathetic but not flattering to a man who had just three years after this period’s end to make himself immortal.” More from Ryland Aldrich (Twitch) and David Sexton (Evening Standard). Interviews with Ridley: Scott Macaulay (Filmmaker) and Anne Thompson.
All Is By My Side was a Special Presentation in Toronto.