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Monday, January 16, 2023


Originally posted on 9/3/10


It's hard to mess up a Jimi Hendrix documentary as long as you include plenty of performance footage of Jimi doing his thing.  Which is pretty much where JIMI HENDRIX: THE GUITAR HERO (2009) goes wrong. 

What we get instead are plenty of talking heads telling us what was so special about the legendary performer and his music.  Granted, it's a pretty good gathering of people who either knew Hendrix or had fateful encounters with him, and they have some interesting stories and insights to share.  Stephen Stills, Dave Mason, Mick Taylor, Eric Burdon, Lemmy of "Motorhead" (who refers to one of Hendrix' albums as "Electric Landlady"), and Mickey Dolenz are among those who get the most screen time, backed by briefer clips (some consisting of old footage) of Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, Paul Rodgers, Chris Squire, Alan White, Bev Bevan, and photographer Henry Diltz.  Slash, lead guitarist of Guns N Roses, narrates and offers his own comments about Hendrix' influence on him. 

Unfortunately, most of this is about as interesting as a documentary about NASA's Apollo program that doesn't have any footage of the moon landing.  Hendrix is seen mostly in still photos and silent film clips which, incredibly, are accompanied mainly by other people's music.  When a summary of his early life touches on his first trip to New York, we hear Nilsson's "Everybody's Talkin'."  A look at Jimi's freaky London-inspired wardrobe brings on the Kinks' "Dedicated Follower of Fashion", while his later downward spiral into drugs and career frustrations elicits, of all things, several minutes of Donovan's "Hurdy Gurdy Man." 

When Dave Mason mentions playing acoustic guitar on the Dylan cover "All Along the Watchtower", we then see about two minutes of Mason onstage in 2002 playing the song.  Even during footage of Jimi performing at Woodstock, we hear Bob Dylan singing "Like a Rolling Stone."  And amidst the numerous scenes of other people talking about him, Hendrix himself speaks only a couple of times in some brief, hard-to-hear interview clips.

Only a few samples of Jimi Hendrix music are heard at various points in the film--one is a snippet of "Wild Thing", and another is a minute or two of "Hey Joe", which is included in its entirety in the bonus menu.  Other than that, the only Hendrix music I recall is an instrumental with Curtis Knight entitled "Level" which is heard over the closing credits.  The various commentators speak at length about the origins of Hendrix' style and the technical aspects of his music, but we hear precious little of it ourselves.  It's both puzzling and terribly disappointing.

The main reason for watching JIMI HENDRIX: THE GUITAR HERO (besides seeing what some of the old rock stars look like these days) is the presence of Jimi's younger brother Leon, whom Jimi helped raise after their parents' breakup.  The talkative Leon has endless anecdotes about his brother and how music became such a driving force in his life, most of which can be found in a lengthy interview segment on the bonus menu. 

Leon's reminiscences humanize Jimi more than any others in the film--we learn, among other things, that his boyhood nickname was "Buster" after his hero Buster "Flash Gordon" Crabbe, that he learned to play on a one-string ukulele found in a neighbor's garage, and that he once took his father's radio apart (and was soundly spanked for it) trying to find out where the music came from.  As Leon's stories indicate, this quest to experience music to its fullest was the driving ambition of Jimi's short life. 

The DVD from Image Entertainment is in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo with no subtitles.  Extras include extended interviews, two photo galleries, the Jimi Hendrix Experience (with bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell) performing "Hey Joe" live at the Marquee, and, for no particular reason, eight minutes of Henry Diltz' silent 8mm home movie footage of the Monkees on tour.  Of special interest is the beautifully-illustrated 20-page booklet included with the disc, with detailed liner notes by Diltz and Laura Rojko.

For fans already familiar with his recorded legacy, JIMI HENDRIX: THE GUITAR HERO should prove somewhat interesting for its historical details and personal accounts.  However, if you don't know much about Jimi Hendrix' music before watching it, you won't know much about it afterwards, either.  You'll be aware of his techniques, inspirations, and life experiences, but as far as the music itself is concerned, you might as well read a book about it.

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