There have never been any other performers in rock history quite like
Jimi Hendrix. His onstage personality and
style were completely engaging and fully integrated with his incredible
musicianship, from his innovative
guitar-playing and resounding voice to his masterful songwriting and
ability to elevate other
people's songs in his own style.
Like the very best rock documentaries, Jimi Hendrix, produced
just a couple of years after the legendary performer's
untimely death in 1970, features interviews with
countless family members, collaborators, friends,
lovers, and contemporaries, but most importantly it's
heavily loaded with music.
Many of the performances in
the film come from Hendrix's 1967 Monterey set, but
clips from other festivals, like Woodstock and Isle
of Wright are featured as well. While hearing reminiscences from those
closest to Hendrix helps round out his
personality somewhat, the music is the message. Hendrix takes a rock
standard like "Wild Thing" and bends it all
around with his supple rhythm guitar and saucy vocals until it's way
more interesting than the original. Similarly,
Hendrix's version of Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower" is
thunderingly powerful, an apocalyptic vision that
takes Dylan's text and builds an atmosphere around it that improves the
song immensely. Hendrix's own originals like
"Purple Haze" and "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)" are intense sessions
of vocal and guitar interplay that blur the
line between just performing a song and actually embodying it.
His famously elaborate stage persona (including colorful outfits and an
penchant for destroying amps and burning
guitars) added to the legend and helped make him a star. It's great to
get such a good look at his total performance
As for the interviews, they are sometimes enlightening, sometimes
obvious. All of those interviewed (including Eric Clapton, Pete Townsend, Mitch
Mitchell, Mick Jagger and many others) were clearly very moved by Hendrix. The editing
is nimble enough, however,
to crosscut a lot of different interviews without the talking heads
making the film feel static. There are some interesting ideas
Various participants talk about how Hendrix felt somewhat pigeonholed
his stage antics, like people would be disappointed if he didn't set
his strat on fire in every performance. Most of those featured still
seem somewhat shell-shocked by Hendrix's death. But they do offer a complex view of the
man: Bold but shy, fiercely independent but collaborative, highly original but heavily
influenced by the past. This feature gives a nicely rounded view of a complex musician
whose career lasted for far too short a time but whose music and influence have never
The anamorphic widescreen video is really good considering the source.
Some interviews are overly soft and there's a
noticable amount of grain throughout but the bulk of the footage
(particularly the concert segments) is colorful
and vibrant. For the most part it's a fine transfer.
The audio is available both as Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0. The 5.1
sounds terrific. It's hard to imagine that
the concerts were shot over three decades ago. (The interviews are much less dynamic
and play much quieter than the music.) The concerts sound dynamic,
and clean. The surrounds are used to some
extent for crowd noise, although I found that occasionally distracting. (The audience
clapping sometimes sounded odd.) But other than that it's an excellent
track. The 2.0 track is fine as well but it really shows how much
murkier a two track mix can be when compared to
the multi-channel mix. The instruments aren't as distinct sounding and
the performances have less energy and punch.
There are English and French subtitles, but not for song lyrics.
Three extra features are included and they're all pretty good. From
The Ukelele To The Strat is an assembly
of interviews with family and longtime friends that gives a shorter,
more capsule look at Hendrix's history from
those who really knew him the longest. It seems to come from some of
same interviews as the main feature and
isn't in quite as good shape, but it's good to have.
The Making of Dolly Dagger is a look at the production of the
densely layered track. Producer Eddie Kramer
plays with the mix, adding and dropping elements, to show how the song
was constructed. It's a terrific feature that
reminds me of the Classic Albums series. I love these
behind-the-scenes glimpses into how great music is
A live performance of "Stone Free" from the 1970 Atlanta Pop Festival
also included. It's a groovy, driving
rendition that gives viewers one more chance to see how amazing Hendrix
was on stage.
NOTE: A previous release of Jimi Hendrix on DVD was bare-bones. Make sure you
get the new version.
Jimi Hendrix was truly one of a kind and this documentary takes its time showing why.
It's possible that this is the definitive documentary on the artist, a brilliant
musical and visual performer whose style and sounds transcend time. Long after many
other cultural institutions have grown to look quaint or dated, Hendrix still seems