Film & TV

Jimi: All Is By My Side, a Biopic About a Rock God and Real Women

Groupie has come to be an ugly word, a misogynist dig that's used all too casually by men and women alike. A groupie is a woman who doesn't "do" anything; she gets all of her glamour via her association with a strong man, most often a rock star. How can we admire, or even just respect, someone like that? How can we see her as a person at all if she herself doesn't play guitar, write songs, or command an audience? If feminism, however you define it, has given us a greater understanding of everything women are capable of being and doing, it also has a dark side: Women who don't "do" enough -- whatever "enough" is -- are better kept out of the club.

See also: Five Signs You Might Be a Shitty Guitarist

Whatever its flaws may be -- and there are many -- John Ridley's Jimi: All Is By My Side is compelling for one specific reason: It's more attuned to the women in Hendrix's life than it is to Hendrix himself, who at times almost recedes into the background, despite the fact that he's played by the almost criminally charismatic André Benjamin.

This is a strange and only semi-successful picture, an attempt at mapping one significant year in the life of Jimi Hendrix. Instead of celebrating Hendrix's greatness, it accepts that greatness as a given, a glittering, self-evident thing. That approach may be something of a workaround. Ridley -- who wrote and directed one previous feature, 1997's Cold Around the Heart, but who's more famous for having written the script for 12 Years a Slave -- couldn't secure the rights to Hendrix's music. The few times we see Benjamin re-creating the Hendrix mystique onstage, he's performing covers like "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" and "Wild Thing." Anyone expecting All Is By My Side to be a greatest-hits survey has grasped the wrong end of the Stratocaster.

But it at least has a spark of life to it, and Ridley's decision to focus on Hendrix's first year in London -- from 1966 to 1967 -- frees rather than limits him. The film opens with the pre-fame Hendrix -- a man with clear star power but no platform for liftoff -- playing to a meager crowd at New York's Cheetah Club. But one woman in that club is transfixed: Linda Keith (Imogen Poots), a smart, well-bred English girl who happens to be Keith Richards's girlfriend. And right away, Ridley shows us how the world views her: A fellow clubgoer recognizes her as a Rolling Stone satellite and approaches her for an autograph. She rebuffs him, but the point is clear: Nobody in this universe thinks much of Linda Keith as a person; the famous guy she's sleeping with is the only thing that defines her.

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Miami New Times staff

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