Jimi Hendrix: Deluxe Edition | 23-07-2005 00:00
The Sixties produced a plethora of fine guitarists, and a good few
great ones, but all would defer to one man. John Allen Hendrix, later
renamed James Marshall Hendrix (1942-1970), burned very brightly
indeed, but not for long. He numbers amongst the most significant
musicians of the last century, expanding the possibilities of his
instrument like no other. That instrument was, of course, the electric
guitar. In his hands, he showed definitively that it was a different
beast to its acoustic cousin. There's no doubt he could play acoustic
if he wanted to - in fact, the cover image of this DVD shows him
hunched over a acoustic twelve-string - but apart from his technique
and prowess, it was his mastery of sustain, feedback and sheer volume
that set him apart. He was a man who united contradictions: a black man
playing in a musical genre (amplified hard rock) mostly dominated by
whites. Quite shy offstage, he was an unashamed cock-rocker onstage.
His impact derived in part from his charisma, overt sexuality and
showmanship, in addition to his mastery of the amplified six strings.
And there is of course, his early death. That certainly doesn't
always ensure icon status: notice how, ten years on, River Phoenix is
slipping away from the public consciousness while Kurt Cobain remains
there. It's fascinating to speculate what Hendrix would have done if
he hadn't died (by all accounts, accidentally). He seemed to be
moving away from the blues-based rock power trio epitomised by the
Experience, to explore jazz. But who can tell? Certainly the studio
albums he made still repay listening now, and his concert appearances
- especially at Monterey and Woodstock - retain their potency to
Jimi Hendrix was released in 1973. It has no director's credit:
it's "assembled by" Joe Boyd, produced by John Head and
researched by Gary Weis. It interviews family (especially Hendrix's
father Al), friends and colleagues and fellow musicians: a reasonably
comprehensive list given some notable omissions, more of which later.
Interspersed with the interviews are live performances: from the
literally pyrotechnic finale of "Wild Thing" at the Monterey Pop,
the performance of "Star Spangled Banner" at Woodstock, to the Isle
of Wight Festival, the Marquee Club and the Fillmore East. We hear from
army buddies like Billy Cox (who later played bass for Hendrix in the
Band of Gypsies), former bosses like Little Richard (who is on
flamboyant form here). Germaine Greer turns up to discuss how Hendrix
found the adulation hard to cope with. Meanwhile, contemporaries such
as Mick Jagger, Eric Clapton and especially Pete Townshend chip in on
Hendrix's musical impact.
The film arranges the interviews in more-or-less chronological order,
and are well edited so that the hour-and-three-quarter running time
doesn't drag. As I said above, there are some omissions. It would be
good to hear from Bob Dylan, who both influenced Hendrix and was
influenced by him: Hendrix's version of Dylan's "All Along the
Watchtower" is surely definitive, something acknowledged by Dylan,
who played the song Hendrix-style on his Rolling Thunder tour, as heard
on the live album Before the Flood. However, given Dylan's
characteristic contrariness, maybe that didn't work out. Also on my
wish-list would be Steve Winwood and Jefferson Airplane's Jack
Casady, who joined Hendrix and the Experience's faithful drummer
Mitch Mitchell on the long version of "Voodoo Chile" on Electric
Ladyland, though perhaps that would best be placed in a more in-depth
study of that album.
An omission closer to home is Noel Redding, bassist in the Experience.
Mitch Mitchell is present and happy to talk, but Redding is completely
absent. There's no doubt there was some bitterness there. Redding was
a guitarist who turned up to audition for the Animals, to be offered
the bass gig in the Experience by Hendrix's manager (and Animals
bassist) Chas Chandler. Apparently Hendrix liked his Afro hairstyle.
However, in the latter days of the Experience, Redding found himself
increasingly marginalised. There's a story of his turning up to work
one day during the sessions for Electric Ladyland to be asked "Who
the fuck are you?" by one of the many hangers-on. (His answer:
"I'm only the fucking bass player.") On that album, there are
tracks where there is no bass at all, or an outside bassist is brought
in (Jack Casady, as mentioned above), or the instrument is played by
Hendrix himself. Apparently as a sop to Redding, Hendrix gave him a
song credit and lead vocal: that song, "Little Miss Strange" is by
no means bad, but it's patently dwarfed by the company it keeps. You
have to feel sorry for Redding, who faced the dilemma that Peter
Shaffer dramatised in Amadeus: that of someone who is not untalented
confronted by genius. A by all accounts bitter man, Redding (who died
in 2003) does not participate in this documentary.
Jimi Hendrix remains a model of the biographical documentary, and
remains a good place for beginners who may wish to explore further the
man's legacy on DVD and CD. The interviews put it all in context,
while the live footage shows us precisely what it was all about.
Jimi Hendrix was previously released as a bare-bones Warner's back
catalogue disc with mono sound. It's now been revisited in this
Deluxe Edition. I'm reviewing the American release, which is NTSC
format and encoded for Regions 1, 2, 3 and 4. There are twenty-four
chapter stops. Subtitles are provided for the feature only.
The DVD is anamorphic, in a ratio of 1.78:1. Is this the correct ratio?
Yes and no. The film shows every sign of being shot in 16mm (grain,
softness and all) and some of the concert footage (Monterey, Woodstock)
certainly was. Some shots do look cropped. However, this was a
documentary that was blown up to 35mm and intended for wide
distribution, and then as now, few cinemas could show 4:3 material
properly. The film looks like it's been carefully cropped so that the
vital part of each shot can still be seen if shown in 1.85:1, so that
would be intended ratio, opened up slightly for this DVD. Although the
film has been remastered for this release, it's far from reference
material, given the limitations of its source material, but I doubt
it's looked better.
1973 was before the arrival of Dolby Stereo in cinemas. Some films were
graced with four-track magnetic tracks, but cinemas capable of playing
these were few, mostly big-city showcase venues. In any case, that was
an option that appears not to have been taken up in this film's case,
and it's certainly true that most people at the time of its release
would have heard it in mono, as was the original DVD release. This
edition however has two soundtrack options, Dolby Digital 5.1 and
surround-encoded Dolby Digital 2.0. Normally, I'd be against remixing
a mono track, but this is an exception. Most of the film remains
monophonic, with surround sound only coming in with the live material.
This footage was professionally recorded with multitrack recording
equipment and in the case of Monterey Pop and Woodstock 5.1 soundtracks
already exist. Be warned: this footage is considerably louder than the
interview footage, but if your neighbours don't object it sounds
great. Surrounds are used for audience applause. Thanks to the
subwoofer, any bassists who want to play along with Redding or Cox will
be well served.
There exists an outstanding commentary on the life, times and music of
Hendrix, but that was provided by Charles Shaar Murray (author of the
Hendrix book Crosstown Traffic) for Criterion's release of Jimi Plays
Monterey in their Complete Monterey Pop box set. There's no
commentary on Jimi Hendrix. I doubt one could compete, but as the film
is a biographical documentary, it would be mostly superfluous anyway.
The extras that are provided are certainly worthwhile.
"From the Ukulele to the Strat" is a long featurette that seems to
have been made at the same time as the feature, given the age and
appearance of the participants. It consists of interviews with many of
the same people interviewed in Jimi Hendrix, but with no live footage.
It complements the main feature quite nicely, and some good anecdotes
are forthcoming. It's presented in 4:3 and runs 63:01.
"The Making of Dolly Dagger" (6:31) uses the format familiar to
many "Classic Album" editions. Here engineer Eddie Kramer sits at a
mixing desk and takes us through this song from Rainbow Bridge,
breaking it down into its component parts: the basic
guitar/bass/drums/vocals, plus layers of guitar, fuzz bass, congas,
footstamps and backing vocals. Finally, "Stone Free Uncut" (6:06)
is a previously-unreleased performance from the 1970 Atlanta Pop
Festival. This is in 4:3 and has only 2.0 mono sound, but Hendrix fans
will certainly be glad to have it.
With Jimi Hendrix, Warners have revisited a film that was a
midnight-movie favourite in the 1970s and updated the DVD release with
some very worthwhile extras. Fans of the electric guitar, Sixties music
and Hendrix in particular should snap this up.