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Case Number 19636: Small Claims Court

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Jimi Hendrix: The Guitar Hero

Image Entertainment // 2009 // 109 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Victor Valdivia (Retired) // September 9th, 2010

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All Rise...

A DVD on Judge Victor Valdivia would be an incoherent mess, but that's because his life is an incoherent mess.

The Charge

Celebrated by legends of rock.

The Case

Usually, the Classic Artists series is stellar, releasing DVDs devoted to such musicians as Cream, Yes, and Jethro Tull that are packed with interviews, performances, and archival footage. You'd expect this volume, devoted to Jimi Hendrix, to be in the same class as their other titles. Sadly, you'd be mistaken. It's full of remarkable interviews with A-list musicians, but the storytelling is so disorganized that you'll find it hard to truly savor them. Other Classic Artists DVDs were so well-told that they worked just as well for newcomers as for longtime fans, but this one will confuse anyone who doesn't already know Hendrix's biography in detail.

Much of the problem is that, unlike the other Classic Artists volumes, this one is unauthorized by the Jimi Hendrix estate. Consequently, there's very little biographical detail on Hendrix's early life, apart from some tidbits from Hendrix's younger brother Leon. Even more disappointingly, the DVD's producers were only able to license two Hendrix songs: "Hey Joe" and "Wild Thing." These are, of course, covers, making them less than representative of his actual work. When Leon, for instance, describes how the wistful ballad "Castles Made of Sand" is the most autobiographical song Hendrix ever wrote, it's hard not to wish that the song actually played so viewers could appreciate his explanation. Similarly, you won't get to hear Hendrix's version of Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower." Instead, ex-Traffic guitarist Dave Mason performs a version with his band. He's an accomplished guitarist but this is hardly a scintillating performance, and it doesn't hold a candle to the original, making it superfluous.

Without much in the way of Hendrix's music or biographical details, the documentary meanders, randomly dispensing facts with no organization. It starts with Hendrix going to England to become a star, goes to his triumphant appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, and then wanders back to his early days touring with Little Richard and Solomon Burke. There's no rhyme or reason to any of this. If anything, the slipshod structure makes it harder to understand some of the important points of the story. When, for instance, various people make the point that Hendrix's triumph in England was a welcome relief after the racism and indifference that he had endured in the United States, it would have been a good idea to put the sections that explain that racism and indifference before these interviews, not several minutes after. This sloppiness also shortchanges several crucial aspects of Hendrix's career. Don't expect to hear about the Band of Gypsys, the three-piece funk band Hendrix briefly formed with funk drummer Buddy Miles, or even all that much about the recording sessions for his three seminal albums, Are You Experienced?, Axis: Bold As Love (both 1967), or Electric Ladyland (1968). Sure, you can learn more about these from other sources, but isn't the point of a DVD like this one to serve as a one-stop place to learn the basics of this story?

The caliber of musicians interviewed is at least impressive. Eric Clapton, Stephen Stills, Mason (who played on Electric Ladyland), Chris Squire and Alan White of Yes, Lemmy Kilmister of Motörhead (who was one of Hendrix's roadies), ex-Rolling Stones guitarist Mick Taylor, Ginger Baker of Cream, Eric Burdon of the Animals, Paul Rodgers of Bad Company, and Slash (who also serves as occasional narrator) all relate their memories and thoughts and these are least worth hearing. Again, however, they're not organized in a particularly coherent fashion. Instead, they just pile on, with one star telling a story, then another, then another, and so on. Some of these stories are related to one another, but just as often they're not, so after a while the net effect becomes more numbing that illuminative, even with so many interesting reminiscences. Eventually, the documentary becomes a waste of some great stories that could have been enthralling had they been used more coherently.

You'll get some more in the extras, since the disc includes about 40 minutes' worth of extended interviews with various artists. These are worth a look, especially the ones with the ever-blunt Kilmister. His account of just how mind-bogglingly egomaniacal Noel Redding, Hendrix's original bassist, could be is easily the high point. The remaining extras are less useful. There's one musical performance, "Hey Joe," filmed at the Marquee in 1967 (3:30). It's the only full Hendrix performance on the entire disc and since it's already available on other Hendrix DVDs, it's hardly noteworthy. The remaining extras are courtesy of photographer Henry Diltz. The disc includes some silent 8mm footage (10:47) Diltz shot during a Monkees tour that included Hendrix as the opening act, although Hendrix had already been fired by the time Diltz joined the tour, so he's not actually in the footage. The disc is rounded out by some galleries of Hendrix photos Diltz took over various years. The anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer and Dolby stereo mix are both satisfactory, with only some of the archival footage looking and sounding rough.

At least, though, longtime Hendrix fans will find some value in this DVD since it does have some interesting stories and insights. The problem is that the presentation is so shoddy that it will be something of a chore to watch. Hendrix newcomers, on the other hand, should definitely not start here. The documentary does not do a good job of explaining who Hendrix was and why he was so important, especially since you'll barely get to hear any of his music. Which is a shame, since if there's any artist that deserves a comprehensive full-length history of his career, it's Jimi Hendrix. Sorry to say, Jimi Hendrix: The Guitar Hero simply isn't it.

The Verdict

Guilty of not telling this story as well as it should have.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 70

Perp Profile

Studio: Image Entertainment
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• None
Running Time: 109 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Concerts and Musicals
• Documentary

Distinguishing Marks

• Bonus Footage
• Extended Interviews
• Photo Gallery


• JimiHendrix.com

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