The new Jimi Hendrix biopic, “Jimi: All is By My Side,” seemed like a fitting film to open the Seattle International Film Festival. It celebrates one of Seattle’s most famous sons, plus it was written and directed by John Ridley, who just won an Oscar for the film “12 Years A Slave.”
But on the surface, the film has some major flaws. Like the fact that there isn’t a single lick of Hendrix’s music in the film, since his estate wouldn’t allow it. But now it seems the flaws might go even deeper.
The film is set in 1966 and 1967, when Jimi arrives in London.
“Jimi’s first 100 days in England were the most extraordinary days of his life. There has never been a performer in the history of music who became famous so fast. Nobody. Nobody’s had the time where they went from completely unknown to essentially superstar in three month’s time,” explains Charles R. Cross, author of the Jimi Hendrix biography, “Room Full of Mirrors.”
“For (the book) I interviewed 325 people. Everyone from four or five of his intimate family members to band members to girlfriends. Literally, the people who sat next to Jimi Hendrix in kindergarten.”
So what did Charles think of the new film?
“I hated it.”
He hated it because parts of the film portray Jimi Hendrix quite negatively.
“The most shocking thing is Jimi is shown beating a woman twice. That woman is named Kathy Etchingham, who was Jimi’s longtime girlfriend from London. He was with her for three years. She says that no domestic violence like that ever happened,” says Cross. “In interviewing over 300 people for my book, I never heard a story that is even close to that.”
In one scene, in a bar, Jimi yanks a payphone from Kathy’s hand and beats her with it until her face is black and blue, and bleeding.
“I just cannot say how offensive it is to me that an African American man is portrayed as a domestic violence creator, when this was not something that anyone ever told a story of Jimi Hendrix doing,” says Cross
On her website, the real life Kathy Etchingham says she reached out to filmmakers and the actress who played her, eager to tell them stories for the script, but her messages were never returned.
“Since the movie has come out, I’ve talked to Kathy Etchingham a number of times and she’s extremely upset about the way she is portrayed in this movie,” says Cross. “When you’re presented as if you’re a victim of domestic violence, that is potentially libelous even in and of itself.”
And Cross says the filmmakers just didn’t get Jimi’s personality right either.
“The portrait of Jimi, just in general, is a portrait of somebody who is somewhat detached and has these naggy women who were telling him what to do. That was not at all the way that Hendrix was,” he says. “Everyone who was friends with him purports to tell a story of Jimi as a very clear headed individual who simply did not have two naggy girlfriends who were telling him what to do and fighting over him. It simply never happened.”
He worries that fans, who know nothing about Jimi’s personal life, will take the movie as truth.
“What’s interesting about this movie is, you’ve had warring in the Hendrix family for years, since Jimi died, about who controlled the estate,” explains Cross. “On one side, you had Jimi’s stepsister, Janie, on the other side you had Leon Hendrix. This is one of the first things that has ever come out where everyone agrees that they hate. Everyone believes that this was not what Jimi was.”
Cross thinks adding domestic violence as a dramatic element wasn’t necessary, because the true, real life story of Jimi Hendrix defying racial and socioeconomic stereotypes during his time in London would have been a fascinating film all on its own.