Jimi: All Is by My Side ★★½

When pops took me to buy my first guitar (an ordinary instrument that played the chords pretty alright for its price), two hundred years ago, this is what he said to me: 'Buddy, treat this as all you have or you'll spend the rest of your life pushing paper.' Well, I did not end up pushing paper but that's what I did for a good fourteen years and I was pretty awesome at it until one day I couldn't do it anymore (living out of a back-pack, presenting, training, developing projects, streamlining structures, manipulating hedge funds, partaking of futile - to me - conversations, crude oil market speculation, the marriage, the credit cards, the mortgage et al.) and quit only to find some peace with my guitar. I have a Höfner now, in case the keen viewer is interested, and life is hard yet so much simpler.

Are you interested? Then read on.

To this day I wonder how the heck did he exactly know where his awkward boy was headed. I say awkward because back in the day (about the same time I got the unbranded acoustic guitar), my body was changing, my mood was on a trampoline (we later found out why), I did not like people, was becoming wary of 'friends' my age, I was invisible to the girls, to the jr. jocks, even to geeks. I drew strange drawings and was thrown out of school for something I drew (not porn). I was seven at the time of the scandalous sketch.

The lunch breaks were usually spent alone with a turkey sandwich in one hand and a John Romita Jr. or an Alan Moore comic in the other. I wear glasses; I have a unibrow, which made me a middle-school definition of a freak. The bullies convinced me that I could easily fit in with the rest of the Sesame Street puppets. When push came to shove (mostly internal), I started smoking because all the cool guys did it. 'Fuck, just look at Mickey Rourke', I responded in excitement to curious less adventurous cousins. Later it changed to, 'I smoke, you watch entire test-cricket series without break, for five whole days!'. They shrugged and rightly so. The explanation was lame and even I could not come up with the real 'why?'.

I experimented with different drugs but weed stuck to me for life and those damn cigarettes. Then my pops got me a guitar and said what he did. Things changed after that. I was no more 'Bert'; after a few weeks of practice and showing off my vocals in the music class, even the cool kids asked me to sit with them and play 'something' by Nirvana. I always played 'The Man who Sold the World', knowing it was a mega-popular cover and also understanding that for 'Heart Shaped Box' I would need more than just a weak guitar, which was already bending at the neck because of my obsession with 'perfect tuning'. Eventually I was somewhat of a recluse member of the 'Grease Club', however even then the girls evaded me. They would sit with their guys at the end of school and would tell them to ask me to play, errr... some 'Nirvana'. 'Why don't you ask me yourself, Madiha? And I'm sick of playing Nirvana, I fucking hate Nirvana. And 'The Man who Sold the World' is NOT by them!'


Those were the last months of high-school. Every one had changed, so had I. The trampoline had become weak, it would not take me as high as before. Pot did. DID. I suppose, now, I need to devour an entire plantation to feel that first high from a hundred years ago; actually nineteen. We moved on, all of us; I got laid finally, dropped acid and listened to 'Echos' on repeat, snorted snow white, which ended in a highway chase. Well, not really but I ended up crashing the Daihatsu , with a busted eye and a broken hand. I couldn't play the guitar for a month. It was the only time when I opened up to people in college, not fully though.

I would love to think that the black piece of wood with bronze/ steel strings, that made my hands bleed as a kid, and the perseverance of a mountain climber was the game changer, but in reality I was only coming of age, a little to the left with my highly conflicted and a painfully shy adolescence.

Jimi got his first guitar at the age of fifteen, soon followed by a white Supro Ozark and then a Silvertone Danelectro. All bought for him by his father.

The film shows us Linda Keith (Imogen Poots) presenting Jimi with a white guitar, that was the second white guitar that someone got for him. However this time is was a Fender Stratocaster, the one that he would use at Woodstock.

In one scene we see Keith Richards (Ashley Charles) huffing and puffing in a large hotel suit with Linda's father listening to Richard rant about what a degenerate Jimi is and how he is 'strung out'. That scene made me laugh hard considering Richard's own addiction to heroin.

Once again, like in 'The Doors, 1991', we are shown dusky, dim-lit smoke filled Blues and Jazz bars where women are perpetually swaying to anything being played on-stage and the prying eyes of the talent-hunters and the big-wigs dismissing the artist or their eyes popping out of their sockets.

A non-conformist, Jimi is known to blend various genres and come up with a sound of his own, on his own alternate terms (tuning), much to the band members' dislike and even to his own contempt, for reasons of being bound. Eric Clapton is shown walking off stage when Jimi requests to play just one number with the The Yardbirds and blows up the entire place to Mars: 'What the fuck was that, Chas?'. He was that good.

John Ridley directs André Benjamin (Revolver, 2005) as an afterthought. Jimi is mostly silent, when he speaks he talks as if an angel has revealed the words to him. At first I presumed that Benjamin was cast because of his likeness to Hendrix and not because of his acting skills. However, as the film progresses we see that Jimi is not only silent for a major part of the film, when he is not singing, but he is also staring in to blank space until he finds something interesting to talk about. The non-linear editing, crushes the superposition principle and the overlapping conversations show our protagonist's absent mindedness and the noise all around him. The viewer wants one of the conversations to stop for them to comprehend the babel, but it is meant for us to not understand just like Jimi who blocked it all and never made the effort of catching up with or contributing to a conversation with his spaced out rhetoric.

The times were hard for coloured people. Nobody liked him, except the newly emancipated white women who desired a black man for the way he played the guitar by becoming one with his Les Paul or the Stratocaster or the Gibson- V and handled the instrument like no one before (or after) him. I mean, he played a right handed restrung guitar by swapping it upside down, making the high E much more dark while the low E would produce a 'bright sound'. He broke a few teeth while practicing to play the guitar with his set.

We do not see all of this in 'Jimi', instead Ridley is more interested in the man behind the myth. What man?

A man who dismissed women at the drop of a phone call. A man who let other people call his girls names only to smile when the ladies stormed out of the room. His violent outbursts, that would result in beating women with a telephone in public, came across as if being played by someone completely different, not Benjamin but someone who has just had a slight glimpse in to reality.

The film shows us Jimi's rise to fame, his exotic techniques, his fashion sense, his unbeknownst smiles, the empty glare while the rest of the musicians are freaking out, intimated by the Beatles and The Rolling Stones in the audience. Jimi is shown lying belly down on the bed and reminiscing, thinking hard while the audience waits for him (he's not even as famous yet). With every act the brooding gets even more dark and mystical. He loathed having to play the 'Blues' or 'Soul' or 'Rock'. He just wanted to play music, not labels.

'I got no intentions. I see how intentions do people. They're like, I'm gonna plan to do this and I'm planning to do that. And as soon as things don't work out, it fucks them all up.' Jimi is heard saying in his off-stage, and very soft voice; hardly audible.

The film follows Jimi for a little more than a year, we see him performing throughout the Chitlin' Circuit and as the years and the women and the evolution of guitar sound pass by we see jimi turn into a behemoth, a guitar god, a man whose theatrics were as inciting as his playing. Maybe not. His playing is incomparable to anything entertaining! In my opinion.

The bad: Well, Benjamin did not sing any of the songs in the film. The guitar riffs were provided by a professional musician. Anyone remember Val Kilmer and the fifty, yes FIFTY songs he recorded for 'The Doors, 1991'.

Plus many a times the movie completely loses focus, like Jimi himself (when not playing) and then gets back on track when Jimi calms his 'Experience' band members before they are about to cover The Beatles' ' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band'; a song released only two days back and being heard by the 'Experience' guys for the first time. The drummer and bassist, Mitch Mitchell, Tom Dunlea are freaking out, unsure with confidence draining like blood and literally at the verge of a 'Band Breakdown'.

Jimi takes care of it. He comes in half hour late, keeping the legendary rockers in the audience waiting for a nobody:

'We have five minutes to learn this shit'
'It's easy man, tune me in E.'
'We are playing a Beatles song in front of THE BEATLES!'
Jimi looks away from the amp he is calibrating, 'Isn't that something? Now let's get up there and have some fun, yeah?'

Moments later a hair-raising sequence gives the viewer a sense of the grandiose, untouchable, genuis, oddball, cool-cat, woman beater, woman magnet, self-obsessed, guitar god Hendrix and his rise to fame in just a few years after discovery.
By '69 Jimi was the highest paid entertainer in the industry. By 1970 he was dead and buried and joined the '27 Club'.

Overall, 'Jimi' is an alright film that chooses to go places where Jimi is just a dreamer, a lost-cause and occasionally the greatest guitar player ever.

The sound editing by Hugo Adams and Niv Adiri and the rest of the fifteen guys working the sound department deserves an Oscar. Simply put.

'Are you experienced'