In his directorial feature debut Jimi: All Is By My Side, John Ridley attempts the seemingly impossible. By zeroing in on the year before guitar giant Jimi Hendrix (played with grace by Outkast’s Andre Benjamin) skyrocketed into fame, Ridley — who just won the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for 12 Years a Slave — tells the man’s story without the aid of his legendary music. (Hendrix’s estate refused, like it did with past directors such as Paul Greengrass and the Hughes brothers, to grant rights to the music.) Asked how Ridley will battle the reflexive disappointment Hendrix fans might feel about the prospect of a biopic without “Hey Joe” or “Purple Haze,” he says you simply don’t. “If there are folks who just want the music, there are record stores and they should absolutely go out and do that,” said Ridley in anticipation of the U.S. premiere Wednesday night at SXSW. “You can’t battle folks who come in with a certain mind-set about a film. There’s always going to be folks, like look at 12 Years, I wish I could go to a lot of folks and say, ‘I’m not trying to preach to you about history, I’m not trying to indict you if you happen to be white, I’m not trying to victimize if you’re black, it’s a beautiful story.’” READ FULL STORY
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Since his Oscar win for Best Adapted Screenplay for 12 Years a Slave, John Ridley has been busy enough to tune out superfluous drama. He’s been in Austin since shooting the pilot American Crime for ABC, and promoting the U.S. premiere of the Hendrix biopic Jimi: All Is By My Side at SXSW. But he knows that failing to thank 12 Years director Steve McQueen in his acceptance speech, and the seemingly chilly body language between the two of them on the big night, sparked countless stories of behind-the-scenes beef.
“I do regret it,” says Ridley of his omission. “But just 24 hours earlier at the Spirit Awards I sincerely went on and on about Steve and my work with him. You know, the guy changed my life. At the Oscars you have 30 seconds to talk and it’s like the oxygen drops out of the room. I know [when I heard my name called] I hugged my wife twice, I know David O. Russell, again this person people think I have beef with, was the first guy to hug me, I know Meryl Streep reached out and touched my arm.”
Ridley’s real regret of the night is a more personal one. He took great pains in his brief and eloquent minute on stage to thank a script coordinator named Gayle for her early support of his work (“she was gracious enough to read everything I wrote and when she thought it was ready she’d put smiley faces at the end and I knew that it was job done,” he said). “That was my wife you know,” he says today. (Ridley and his wife Gayle met over 20 years ago working on the set of Martin Lawrence’s sitcom Martin.) “I don’t think most people got that. Wow, I screwed up. Well, I know she got it. I didn’t want to be the guy when you’re getting played off by the music ‘Oh and my wife and I love her.’ I wanted to start there and thank someone who believed in me from the beginning. I wanted the bulk of that 30 seconds to go to my wife and whatever I had remaining was going to Solomon Northup who deserves it.”
Explaining the impulse to trump up tension between himself and McQueen, Ridley blames media’s dependence on easy narratives. “I will say about 12 Years , from the jump, man, from the moment somebody said ‘Stop the year, this is the Best Picture’ the story became ‘It’s torture porn. Why are Brits doing this? This movie is only geared at liberal whites.’ In the end, I said to somebody else ‘At the very least we weren’t Zero Dark Thirty. Nobody set up a congressional investigation. This year it’s who hugged and kissed who and who didn’t.”
Andre Benjamin is Jimi Hendrix: See the singer's soft side in first 'All is By My Side' clip -- EXCLUSIVE
Filmmakers have been trying to bring Jimi Hendrix’s life to the big screen for decades, and with JIMI: All is By My Side, John Ridley has finally succeeded where directors Paul Greengrass and the Hughes brothers had been stymied in recent years. The Oscar-winning screenwriter of 12 Years a Slave brought the iconic rock star, who died in 1970 at the age of 27, back to life with the help of André Benjamin. The movie didn’t have the support of the Hendrix estate so it makes do without his music, but critics nevertheless applauded when the biopic debuted at last fall’s Toronto Film Festival. The movie makes its U.S. debut on March 12 at SXSW.
All Is By My Side tells the Hendrix’s in the year before he became a rock legend, when he was still a back-up guitarist named Jimmy James playing dingy New York clubs. A well-connected groupie named Linda Keith, however, sees in him something special. She brings him to 1966 London, where Jimmy transforms into Jimi. Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll ensue. The film culminates with Hendrix being invited to the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, the historic all-star concert that made him an icon.
In an exclusive clip from the film, Jimi and Linda (Imogen Poots) have a heart-to-heart before he flies to California. They’re no longer together, but he wrote a song about her, he says. Linda, however, is the kind of gal that inspires lots of rock songs: Keith Richards penned “Ruby Tuesday” about her. In the clip below, you can sort of see why.
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I’m a sucker for biopics and always have been, but I understand why they’re often thought of as a second-rate form. In a sense, each one is trying to tell two stories at once: the chronicle of its subject’s artistic or political or whatever other worldly achievement (the thing that made us hungry to see a biopic about him or her in the first place), and, at the same time, the private, tumultuous “human drama” of it all. Given that these two dimensions can’t really be separated, and that you have to cram both of them into two hours, it’s amazing, when you think about it, that the best biopics, from Lenny (1974) to Kinsey (2004) to Malcolm X (1992) to Sweet Dreams (1985) to Milk (2008) to Ed Wood (1994) to Ray (2004), are as rich and full and authentic as they are. Nevertheless, I think that the hyper scrutiny of the “reality” era, when the lives of celebrities (including dead ones) are more subject to exposure than ever before, has made us all a little suspect of the tidiness, the compressions, the convenient fictionalizations, the cut corners that are an essential element of almost any biopic. The good ones are told with more explicitness and authenticity than they used to be, but as a basic form, the biopic now seems cornier than ever. We can see through it, even as we’re hooked on it. READ FULL STORY
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