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.’”
Ridley says if he could’ve gotten just one Hendrix song for the film it would’ve been “Sending My Love to Linda,” which inspired the screenplay. “A lot of folks who claim they want Jimi’s music – and I don’t want to turn this into a rail, but you ask – I think a lot of people don’t even know that song. If I’d gotten it people still would’ve walked out and said, ‘What is that? I don’t know that.’” Another source of inspiration comes from Sid & Nancy, the 1986 British biopic about Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious and his girlfriend Nancy Spungen. “I reference a film like that where I had no interest in punk, to this day have no interest in punk, but that movie is not about punk, it’s about relationships,” he says.
Jimi: All Is By My Side screens Wednesday night at the Paramount Theatre at 9 p.m.