‘All is by My Side’
There’s every reason the Jimi Hendrix film “All is by My Side” shouldn’t exist. The guitar god’s estate, historically stingy with allowing anyone to grant him a Great Man Biopic, even denied the rights to noted author/screenwriter John Ridley, albeit before he won an Oscar for penning “12 Years a Slave.” That meant the film Ridley wrote and directed couldn’t use any of his music, which meant Ridley had to focus on his pre-fame life in the mid-1960s. Moreover, the man he cast as the young Hendrix, Andre Benjamin, was in his late 30s while filming.
Thing is, “All is by My Side” makes most of its severe limitations work in its favor, becoming one of those welcome renegade biopics. Benjamin isn’t a convincing 20-year-old, but his surprising shyness makes him great at conveying a guy who’s talented but not yet iconic. His Hendrix is shy, soft-spoken and still larval. And despite being known for his words, Ridley makes a movie that’s more notably directed than written. Many scenes do little but observe hanging out, with little of the usual biopic tropes; if you knew nothing of Hendrix it would just seem like an unhurried, largely aimless portrait of life in London during a major culture shift. In fact, there’s no clear trajectory. It’s not about one thing but about many of them, though it’s most electric when exploring race, with Hendrix finding resistance against his idea to spread peace among humankind by infiltrating and placating white culture. What can be a frustrating experience can also be more rewarding than something that wanted to be more focused, which “All is by My Side” does not.