The Moviegoer

Guitar Zero

Owen Gleiberman expresses disappointment in discovering that Quentin Tarantino, our rock & rolliest director, will not in fact direct a Jimi Hendrix biopic

Image credit: Jimi Hendrix: Redferns / Retna Ltd.; Quentin Tarantino: Retna Digital / Retna Ltd.

Quentin Tarantino's rumored Hendrix biopic

It sounded like a match made in pulp rock heaven. On Thursday, April 27, the venerable New York Post gossip column, Page Six, reported that Quentin Tarantino had signed on to direct a Jimi Hendrix biopic, which would begin filming in Seattle later this year. The prospect of a Hendrix movie had been kicking around for a long time. There was talk, years ago, of it starring Laurence Fishburne; more recently, the name most frequently mentioned has been André Benjamin of OutKast. All I know is that from the moment I read the item, I was primally psyched. What a tremendous mashup of artists! Hendrix, the original guitar god, the ice-cool imperious freak-genius who took the spirit of the '60s to buzzing pyschedelic extremes; Tarantino, the funky pop omnivore, no stranger to extremes himself, and surely the rock & rolliest filmmaker since early Scorsese. Be honest: Is this not a movie you would kill to see?

There's just one problem: The item wasn't true. It was nothing more than an idle rumor, the culmination of some fan-geek gabble that had been floating around on the Internet. On Tuesday, May 2, Page Six ran a retraction, squashing any speculation about the project. Tarantino, the new item said, has been finishing up work on Grindhouse, the homage to '70s trashploitation flicks that he's codirecting with Sin City's Robert Rodriguez. There may, at some point, be a Hendrix biopic, but as of now QT has nothing to do with it. Be honest: Are you not disappointed?

I was. The original Post item, bogus as it was, made me realize how much I wish Quentin Tarantino would step out of his grind-house junk-movie bunker and do something like a Hendrix biopic — a movie, that is, of grandeur and import and depth and reality. Okay, I'm being unfair: Quentin makes the movies he wants to make, and they are mostly marvelous — I loved Kill Bill, Vol. 1 (Vol. 2 did go on a bit, I thought), and there's no reason that he should ever do anything but follow his muse. Yet let me persist, for a moment, in my fantasy. The biopic genre hasn't just gotten better in recent years. With films like Ray and Kinsey and Capote, it has been reborn, with the old formulas and lies — the happy endings, the sanding down of pesonal warts, the whole false homogenizing impulse — replaced by a thrilling new frankness about how and why people become famous, become artists, become who they are. For all that, biopics remain a pure pop phenomenon. Vulgarly put, they are spectacles of talent plus gossip. They speak to the fan in us. And who is Quentin Tarantino if not the ultimate pop fan?

I guess what I'm saying is that Tarantino, having already made a four-hour grind-house orgy with the Kill Bill films, would now do well to surprise us, and maybe himself, by making a movie that played to his obsessions yet did so in a fresh and (if this isn't too blasphemous) slightly more conventional way. If he reads this, he'll probably roll his eyes. But sorry, I still want to see that damn Hendrix movie.

Originally posted May 03, 2006