News like this shouldn’t surprise anyone at all at this point, given how often biopics have been protested, whether by family or other influential figures in the subject’s life.
The project was previously “disowned” by the Jimi Hendrix Estate, who stated that the filmmakers didn’t have their approval to tell Hendrix’s story, nor use any of the musician’s original songs, in the film.
The film will be free of all Hendrix-written classics like Purple Haze or The Wind Cries Mary, because of these rights issues, and the producers actually set the film in “Hendrix’s pre-fame era,” as they said, and the music used will be covers of other musicians’ songs Hendrix performed.
That obviously didn’t stop the production of the film, however, which was shot last summer in Ireland with Andre Benjamin starring as Hendrix, and John Ridley directing.
Now, revealed over the weekend, Jimi Hendrix’s common-law wife for much of his years in the spotlight, and who is said to have been the inspiration for The Wind Cries Mary, Kathy Etchingham (played in the film by British actress Hayley Atwell), is speaking out against the biopic, saying that it’s inaccurate and miscast, amongst other things.
Etchingham, who dated Hendrix for several years, during the period that the film (titled All Is By My Side) takes place, is unhappy with the creative liberties taken in telling her specific story, and her lawyers have asked the film’s producers to make several changes to the film in order to make it more accurate. She further claims that the producers weren’t interested in her consulting on the project, which she offered to do.
She told UK’s Sunday Express:
“I wrote them an email when I first heard about it saying, ‘If you want any help don’t hesitate to contact me’. They didn’t reply. [The film’s costumes have] Austin Powers written all over [them]; I would not be seen dead in anything like that… Andre and Hayley are much older than Jimi and I were, and it shows … A lot of people will go and see it who have never read any of the biographies, and they will think it’s the gospel truth. I don’t want it [the film] to fundamentally change history.”
It’s worth noting that, apparently, this is a fight that’s been going on for a while, and didn’t just begin.
Courtesy of legal threats and corrections fired the producers’ way by Kathy’s lawyers, the script was in a constant state of revision […] Of more concern to Kathy than those anomalies are derogatory publicity descriptions of her (“groupie” was withdrawn when she complained), mentions of the “class and racial politics of the Sixties” that “illuminate Jimi’s hippie perspective” (“we didn’t have any conversations about black issues and Sixties politics”) and the implication that model Linda Keith may have been the most important woman in Hendrix’s life. Kathy dismisses a recent claim that Hendrix was murdered on the orders of Mike Jeffries to cash in on an insurance policy after Hendrix refused to renew his management contract. “I’ve seen the contract. It had two and a half more years to run.”
The film premiered over the weekend at the Toronto Film Festival to what have been mostly good reviews, with ScreenDaily calling it a “more inquisitive study into an artist’s consciousness than we usually get from the movies,” and THR saying it’s an “Intimate take on a slice of Hendrix’s life is more convincing than many full-blown biopics.”
We should have a review from Zeba soon enough.
But as I began this post, Etchingham’s protest shouldn’t surprise. There almost always will be a disconnect between what ends up on screen and what actually happened in reality. The question is whether you think that’s OK, or problematic. Some have argued that biopics are records of a real person’s life that will, in many cases, be the only source audiences use to inform themselves about the person, and so have an obligation to stick to the facts as they happened. Others have argued creative licence, and that a film, as entertainment, isn’t entirely responsible for educating its audience, or, at least, shouldn’t be the audience’s only source.
I expect this is a conversation that will continue ad infinitum, as long as biopics continue to be made.