Normally I’m not a fan of biopics; they’re either too chronological for my taste or worthy of being a made-for-TV movie at best. However, growing up listening to my father go on and on about what a god Jimi Hendrix was definitely inspired me to go check out All Is By My Side. In addition to the youthful brainwashing I received, The Toronto International Film Festival partnered with the Manifesto Festival of Community & Culture to bring you this film. It stars most notably OutKast‘s André 3000 Benjamin as well as Imogen Poots (who plays Linda Keith, model and former girlfriend of Keith Richards), Hayley Atwell (who plays Jimi‘s girlfriend Kathy Etchingham) and Andrew Buckley (former bassist of Animals fame who goes on to manage Jimi). The film is directed by John Ridley who also wrote the screenplay to 12 Years A Slave (directed by Steve McQueen).
Its important to note that Jimi’s estate was not consulted and thus his greatest hits were not featured in the film. Although this is essentially an obstacle, I think the outcome works in the film’s favour based on the delivery of the plot. The story hobbles along a linear timeline that showcases pivotal events in Jimi’s career before he amassed a cult following. The supporting characters are briefly introduced with a written title but the story doesn’t delve too deep into their character development – the audience is focused on what is happening in the moment.
André 3000 as Jimi is absolutely phenomenal. His performance left me wondering if André was Jimi reincarnated or if Jimi was a premonition of an artist that was to come.
We’ve seen André show off his personality and charisma in OutKast’s cinematic music videos so of course the transition from rapper to actor was seamless. André’s disjointed, psychedelic way of delivering the dialogue captured the essence of Jimi, a man who was simultaneously acutely aware of the times and yet more of a bystander than an activist. At one point, Linda’s character perfectly describes his way of speaking as ‘annoying yet profound in it’s simplicity.’ Perhaps that’s what the world needs more of these days – an artist who isn’t so far up their own ass but rather someone who is happily oblivious to the impact of their genius.
In terms of cinematography, I find that making a film that takes place in the 50s/60s/70s in modern time can prove a daunting task. Having the film reflect the graininess of the past versus the high definition of the present is a delicate balance however the desaturated tone, lack of contrast and choppy narrative really pulls the viewer into a different time. The use of a tripod is often absent and there are frequent cut-always to clips from old television shows, family photographs and world events like the murder of Kelso Cochrane.
Even though I don’t believe the film tries intentionally to pull at your heart strings, I found myself in tears. That’s the magic of cinema. For two hours, you get to leave whoever you are and submerge yourself in the life of a man – an artist – that for a lack of better words was the definition of ‘cool.’ Jimi was someone that was so above it yet his feet were always earnestly touching the ground. All is by André’s side, Jimi on one end, and the rest of us watching on the other.