All Is By My Side, a new Jimi Hendrix biopic starring Outkast’s André Benjamin as the legendary guitarist, will screen at SXSW on Wednesday, March 12th in Austin’s Paramount Theatre. Ahead of that screening, its American premiere, a one-minute clip showing Benjamin flirting with Imogen Poots as Linda Keith has been uploaded to YouTube. Watch that video below and read the film’s official SXSW schedule page here.
All By My Side world premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 7th, so far its only screenings. Directed by John Ridley, now fresh off an Oscar win for writing 12 Years A Slave, the Hendrix biopic focuses on his 1966 transformation to becoming a star. “Jimmy James, an unknown backup guitarist, left New York City for London, England in 1966,” the official synopsis reads. “A year later he returned – as Jimi Hendrix.”
Imogen Poots plays Linda Keith, who discovers Jimi and introduces him to Chas Chandler, Jimi’s soon to be manager. After arriving in London under Chas’ wing Hendrix falls for Kathy Etchingham, played by Hayley Atwell, and takes the local scene by storm. Although Experience Hendrix LLC disapproves of the film and didn’t clear any Hendrix music for its soundtrack, that was not an issue for producer Sean McKittrick (who never even considered approaching the Hendrix estate). “This is the story of Jimi being discovered as a backup musician and how he went to London and became Jimi Hendrix,” McKittrick told Rolling Stone. He reasoned given the timeframe of the movie Hendrix’s famous originals were not needed, only clearance to the covers he played in his pre-fame years.
Backed by Los Angeles session players under the direction of Almost Famous soundtrack producer Danny Bramson, Benjamin covered “Hound Dog,” Muddy Waters’ “Mannish Boy,” Elmore James’ “Bleeding Heart,””Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and “Wild Thing” for the film, as well as two songs Hendrix played as a backup musician in Curtis Knight and the Squires, “Future Trip” and “Driving South.”
TIFF’s description notes, “contemplative conversations on the class and racial politics of the 1960s rock world illuminate Jimi’s hippie perspective, balancing the more intense moments that reveal his neuroses. And, with Poots and Atwell turning in layered performances, the story of the women who gave direction and support to Hendrix becomes a central part of the film. But Ridley’s master stroke was casting Benjamin. Entirely natural in his performance, he knows how to allow the camera in, and can convey both the inner struggle of this troubled genius and the electric personality that would make him a star.”
The reviews for the TIFF premiere received surprisingly positive reviews. The Guardian called it “an unpredictable film, a difficult approximation of a biopic. But it delivers a Jimi Hendrix experience somehow the richer for sidelining the man and subverting his music.” The review went on to praise, “Poots’s performance is her best to date…[Ridley] takes pleasure in amplifying this idea of Hendrix as enigma…It has Hendrix as a man of the times, who was sometimes oblivious to them too…The film bows to accessibility only when bringing in other giants of the scene.” A Hollywood Reporter/ Billboard review agreed “the film isn’t as commercial as one might expect for a project about one of the 1960s’ most evergreen icons. What moviegoers do get is a film 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. One savvy move in both commercial and artistic terms is the lead casting of Andre Benjamin…Benjamin loses himself in Hendrix’s soft, melodic speech, talking earnestly about the colors his music produces and the cosmic fate of mankind without sounding like a hippie idiot…The film doesn’t sugarcoat Hendrix’s treatment of Linda and her successor, longtime girlfriend Kathy Etchingham (Hayley Atwell): Each woman experiences at least one moment when, instead of standing up for her, Hendrix pretends he doesn’t see what’s going on…Here, career highlights happen between the scenes. We hang out with Jimi at home and in clubs instead of seeing his first big gigs or watching as record stores stock his debut…The film is most stylized at the beginning, with a sound design and cutting style that effectively conveys the sense of time spent with bands in rock clubs.”