The road to mounting a Jimi Hendrix biopic has been long and winding, frequently stalled by the roadblock that stood in the way — Experience Hendrix, the estate’s tightly controlled rights and marketing organization, whose CEO is Janie Hendrix, the adopted sister of Jimi — without whose cooperation no Hendrix-penned music can be used in a film.
As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for.
“All Is by My Side,” shot last summer in Ireland and now in post, is doing exactly that. Starring Andre Benjamin (aka Andre 3000) as Hendrix, Hayley Atwell as his live-in London love Kathy Etchingham and Imogen Poots as Linda Keith, the film focuses on Hendrix’s pre-stardom period in swinging London. The biopic has not received permission from the Hendrix estate to use any of the rock icon’s music, and some of the guitarist’s associates are fuming that they were left out of the loop.
With the help of music supervisor Danny Bramson, who is also a producer, the film is using its cover as an origins story to feature music not written by Hendrix of songs by artists including the Beatles, Muddy Waters and Chip Taylor (“Wild Thing”), which Benjamin has recorded for the soundtrack.
You won’t be hearing “The Wind Cries Mary” in this film, and the woman for whom that song was written, Etchingham, is not pleased by the prospect of its release or about how she is portrayed in it. Nor, she says, was she consulted about the storyline.
Etchingham said she contacted the filmmakers and offered help but did not get a reply. “I later read in the Independent that Hayley Atwell was playing my character and that I would be portrayed as a ‘wild child’ who swore in every line. I felt that it would not be an accurate portrayal.”
The article she cites describes Atwell’s account of the movie, in which she commented on playing Etchingham as a working-class Mancunian who was a “chain-smoking wild child” with a “tempestuous relationship with Jimi.”
Etchingham’s reaction: “Firstly, I am not from Manchester. I am actually Irish … my father’s family were prosperous Irish landowners and owned property in Dublin and Wexford. They could not be described as working class. I am not prone to swear all the time. I was not a ‘wild child’ like other ‘rock chicks.’ My friends used to tell me how sensible I was.
“I don’t know where the screenwriter got this misinformation from. I’m sure a good film could be done about his London days but it would probably be better in collaboration with people who actually knew Jimi personally like me and Roger Mayer, Madeline Bell, etc.”
Mayer, the former British Navy engineer and close Hendrix personal friend who has been credited with co-creating Jimi’s sound, noted that scenes in the film seem to depict Hendrix as a domestic abuser. “It seems these naughty filmmakers haven’t researched anything properly,” he said.
It has been 43 years since Jimi Hendrix died at the age of 27. To date, only documentaries, such as 1973’s “Jimi Hendrix,” which features the real characters and live performances of the people in Hendrix’s life, including his father, Al, Mick Jagger, bassist Billy Cox and Eric Clapton, have been produced.
Laurence Fishburne was close to mounting a filmed biopic in 1993 based on the David Henderson biography, “‘Scuse Me While I Kiss the Sky” with himself in the title role. But since he could not use Hendrix’s music, the pic never got made. Since then, prospective projects featuring Eddie Murphy, Will Smith and even Prince have failed to cohere.
The most recent project to have tried and failed was in 2011 by Legendary Pictures with director Paul Greengrass (“The Bourne Ultimatum”) attached, but because the estate would not give Legendary chief Thomas Tull its blessing to use Hendrix songs such as “Foxy Lady,” “Voodoo Child” and “Purple Haze,” Tull declined to proceed. Janie Hendrix had this to say at the time: “When we do the Jimi Hendrix feature film bio, we will be involved and in control from the beginning.”
Representatives from Experience Hendrix did not respond to requests for comment.