Whatever its flaws -- 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 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. 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 pre-fame Hendrix falls for Kathy Etchingham (Hayley Atwell), the girlish, likable redhead who will be with him, in a way, until the end of Hendrix's life. All Is By My Side is more about how Kathy sees Hendrix than about how the world does. Hendrix the rock god, one of the most inventive and muscular of all guitarists, also had an unapologetically feminine side. It's there in his joyous, polychrome outfits, in the soft politeness of his speaking voice, in the swirling fluidity of his guitar lines, which could be as graceful as art nouveau nudes. Benjamin captures it.
This is a crazy-quilt patchwork of a movie, a selection of embroidered scraps held together with thread, less a true-to-life account than like something Hendrix would have worn. But Hendrix's story, or even just this small part of it, could never be told in a straight line.