All Is By My Side, John Ridley's long-awaited Jimi Hendrix biopic, premiered with several screenings this week at the Toronto International Film Festival. The film, which features André Benjamin as the late guitarist, focuses on one transformative year in Hendrix's life, when he blossomed from backing musician in New York City to booking the game-changing Monterey Pop Festival. The movie ends just before that history-making concert, where a flamboyant Hendrix lit his guitar on fire and later smashed it to pieces.
Writer/director Ridley first hatched the idea seven years ago, when he heard the rare Hendrix track "Sending My Love To Linda." Obsessed with discovering who the mysterious woman was, he researched the case for years. As it turns out, "Linda" was a well-connected Brit named Linda Keith, an early girlfriend of Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards. She later became Hendrix's close associate and pushed him to play original music, going so far as to buy him a new guitar.
Ridley's first and only consideration for the Hendrix role was Benjamin, whose previous credits include Idlewild, Smokin' Aces and The Great Gatsby. "I listened to hours of interviews. I watched films – watched his mannerisms," Benjamin relays in the production notes. He also lost weight and took dialect and guitar lessons.
Hendrix tracks are not used in the film – his estate is notoriously guarded – so Ridley's work-around included the use of cover songs important in Hendrix's repertoire, including "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," "Wild Thing," "Mannish Boy," "Bleeding Heart" and "Hound Dog." Producer Danny Bramson assembled top session musicians including Waddy Wachtel, Kenny Aronoff and Leland Sklar to perform the soundtrack, and guitar supervisor Andrew Rollins wrote a Hendrix-inspired instrumental.
For those that can look past the glaring musical omissions, All Is By My Side provides a portrait of the man before the icon, a man who, like many, did not have the know-how or confidence to really go for it, until the love and admiration of a woman pushed him to do so.