Behind The Making Of ‘A Film About Jimi Hendrix’
LOS ANGELES – “The Hendrix film is not by any means a biography of the man; it’s an impressionistic film. Our first chore was to show his music, and if we could also get a feeling of what the period and Hendrix were like, that was a bonus; but basically it’s a musical film.”
Joe Boyd produced A Film About Jimi Hendrix, with John Head doing research and Gary Weiss in charge of visuals. Prior to the Hendrix project Boyd was music director of Warner Bros., the company releasing the film, and before that he produced records for the Incredible String Band, John Martyn, Fairport Convention and recently Maria Muldaur.
And though it is Boyd who has done most of the interviews relating to the film, he made it clear it was not his movie. “The film was done on a three-way democratic system between me and Gary and John; the only ones participating in the profits are Warner Bros. and the Hendrix estate.”
Warner Bros.’ role in all this has been a quiet one. At first the company was reluctant to back any new rock film, remembering, perhaps, their rock turkey, Medicine Ball Caravan. Not since Woodstock has a rock film made money.
“The reason Warner Bros. made the film,” Boyd said, “was because of the record company, because Mo Ostin [chairman of the board of WB Records] was in favor of the project. But Warner Bros. films didn’t interfere or censor the film in any way, and when the film opened at the UA Westwood they were stunned by the business.” (It set a house record, $46,000 in two weeks.)
The musical portions of the film show Hendrix at Monterey (“Rock Me Baby,” “Hey Joe,” “Like a Rolling Stone,” “Wild Thing”), Berkeley Community Theater (“Johnny B. Goode,” “Purple Haze”), Woodstock (“Star Spangled Banner” again), Fillmore East (“Machine Gun” with the Band of Gypsies), Isle of Wight (“Red House,” “In From the Storm”), the Marquee Club in London (“Purple Haze”) and a fine acoustic solo on 12-string guitar (“Hear My Train a-Coming”) filmed in London in 1967.
In addition there are interviews with Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend, Hendrix’ father, several old girlfriends (among them Fayne Pridgeon, who just signed with Atlantic Records), Billy Cox, Germaine Greer, a soldier who played with Jimi in the Army, Little Richard, Buddy Miles and a brief sentence or two from Mitch Mitchell. Conspicuous by their absence – Noel Redding and Hendrix’ manager Michael Jeffery.
(Ed.’s note: Michael Jeffery died in a plane crash last spring.)
“Throughout the making of the film we had a lot of hostility toward it,” Boyd admitted. “Mike Jeffery was the most difficult because he was . . . mixed. He agreed to be interviewed then kept postponing it. Emotionally he was opposed to us; he knew the film would be competitive with his major investment, Rainbow Bridge.
“In the course of interviewing people we got tremendous comment about Jeffery.” Boyd added that it was obvious, by the time they’d talked to only six people, that Hendrix’ relationship with Jeffery was complex, and while it might intrigue people in the music business, they thought it wouldn’t have much interest for the general public. Result: “We ignore Jeffery in the film, not just because it was so complicated, but also because we don’t really know the truth.”
Noel Redding refused to be interviewed because he had a lawsuit pending against the estate (since settled) and also because Redding’s friend Sharon Lawrence (a close friend of Hendrix, now a Los Angeles publicist for Elton John’s Rocket Records) advised him against it.
“Noel filed the lawsuit because of the film,” Ms. Lawrence claimed later. “Noel and I both felt that the whole attitude was not representative of what we knew Jimi to be. Besides,” she added, “we were against a strictly commercial venture with no provision for charity. We felt that Jimi would be extremely upset that his friends participated in something that was basically exploiting his fans. We never had any indication that they cared about Jimi’s feelings; it’s more than a rip-off of Jimi, it’s a very sad way to end him for the public.”
“There were so many conflicting rivalries over the film, it was like Borgia’s court,” Boyd smiled. “But the family was very cooperative.” The film had no association with any foundations. Boyd said he worked with only two agencies – the Hendrix estate (i.e., Jimi’s father, the sole heir) and something called the Hendrix Information Center, which is really a Dutch accountant with an amazing collection of Hendrix memorabilia. It was through the accountant that Boyd got the Marquee Club footage.
“There is no connection between the foundation and the film,” Boyd declared. “Leon, Jimi’s brother, talks about the existence of a foundation to further the underground rock scene in Seattle, but I don’t know if it will be funded by the estate.”
A lot of the interviews in the film are just reminiscing, which is pleasant enough but certainly not challenging. There’s very little reference to drugs, except casually, and very slight mention of Hendrix’s sexual activities – if anything, the film shows too much restraint rather than garish sensationalism. Several of Hendrix’ friends talk of him as if he were a helpless pawn, a sweet man buffeted about by opportunists. There’s only one dissenting voice, Mitch Mitchell, who says very quietly, “He was not a naive man.”
“We left out a lot of areas, we know that,” Boyd said. One segment that wasn’t used was information about Hendrix’s mother. According to Boyd, “His mother died when he was 12; she was only about 28. She was a jitterbug dance champion during the war, a colorful and flamboyant woman, but she was always sickly and drank.
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“We never set out to make a complete documentation of his life,” Boyd continued. “There’s no way we could include every detail like a written biography.” He paused a minute. “I think I always viewed the film as a means of getting great footage of a great musician out to people who would want to see it.”
This is a story from the November 8th, 1973 issue of Rolling Stone.
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