André 3000 Becomes Jimi Hendrix in Anticipated Premiere

The much anticipated Jimi: All is By My Side made its’ American debut at SXSW on Wednesday night.  Written and directed by Academy Award winner John Ridley ( 12 Years A Slave), and lead by talented music artist André  “3000” Benjamin, the film has been buzzing since it debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival last fall.

Instead of a traditional biopic dramatizing Hendrix’s life and death, Ridley chose to focus on the roughly two years that formed Hendrix into a headlining musician.  Dramatizing a smaller scope provides a more intimate look at how Hendrix transformed–largely with the help of Linda Keith (Imogen Poots), Keith Richard’s girlfriend and biggest Jimi supporter- it also misses a key element to any music biopic:  the musician’s music.

Focusing on that brief period of time may have been the only option for Ridley who couldn’t secure the rights to Hendrix’s music.  In fact, the Jimi Hendrix estate recently released the music rights to ICM Partners (the world’s largest talent and literary agencies) for an authorized biopic of the late musician’s life.  Ridley maintains that he chose that span to focus on Jimi’s relationships, which couldn’t have been accomplished with a traditional biopic spanning his short 27 years. Nonetheless, while the dynamics of his relationship with women, his manager, and his music is interesting, it would’ve been a treat to watch Benjamin perform “Purple Haze”.

Don’t be dismayed, the film about a musician does provide some music.  Benjamin performs several covers and gets a chance to show his musical talents in the end credits.  In fact, Jimi may be the role he was made for.  Known for his unique and visionary music, Benjamin proves he can handle heavier material.  Ridley explained that Benjamin was first choice to play Jimi.

Benjamin was surrounded by a strong cast such as Imogen Poots who portrayed the supportive Linda Keith.  Linda played a huge part in getting Jimi on the right course and pushed him into the unique musician he became.   Also, girlfriend Kathy Etchingham (Hayley Atwell) gave a dynamic performance. 

There are many merits to Jimi, strong acting, a solid directorial debut, but the focus on that short span of his life didn’t fill me.  Call me old fashioned, but I like a complete bio.  I would’ve liked to hear more about his childhood, which as I understand, was a tumultuous one. 

Nonetheless, Jimi is a movie worth supporting-even if it’s just to get your fill of André 3000.