Germaine Greer called him a black man in a white mans world. Back in the Sixties,politically correct terms like people of colour hadnt been invented. But being black was what Jimi Hendrix did perfectly,apart from playing the guitar like it had never been. When he burst upon the rock-n-roll scene in the middle of the decade,all the famous white boys the cats who ruled pop and rock and rhythm and blues had a similar reaction,open-mouthed,slack-jawed. Much as they did not want to admit it,they were as completely bowled over as those who gathered,screaming and howling,waiting for him to smash the guitar and set fire to it.
In the two discs that make up A Film About Jimi Hendrix,some of the greatest musicians of that era Eric Clapton,Mick Jagger,Pete Townshend talk about the phenomenon that he was. The son of an alcoholic mother and a largely absentee father,Hendrix learnt how to play as a teen by listening,watching and practising. All the circus tricks that amazed his audience plucking of the guitar strings with his teeth,placing the guitar at the back of the neck and playing it he picked up around that time.
Excerpts from a TV show reveal glimpses of the flamboyance on the outside,the shyness inside,and a distinct off-kilterness. So do you wake up every morning and work? Well,he says,swathed in his trademark psychedelic colours,I wake up every morning. The acid trips,the well-publicised destructiveness and the early death are skimmed over: this film celebrates Hendrix the man that was,and his music that is. For a lot of people,he changed the sound of rock,even more than the Beatles.
But if you said that to the millions of hysterical females who tore their clothes and mobbed the Fab Four,you would have been burnt at the stake. For them,and for a generation that grew up on Love me do,the Beatles were where it all began. In another packed-with-special-features rockumentary,the twin-disc Imagine,you see the coming together becoming the toppermost of the poppermost and the breaking apart of John,Paul,Ringo and George. The story is about the Beatles,but the focus is on musician-peacenik John Lennon.
Disc 1 starts with Lennon and Yoko Ono talking to the camera,capturing their most startlingly intimate moments. Hes asked,off camera,why are you recording your life as a diary? His answer forms the heart of the film: all the records,songs we made were like diaries,of who we were. This is who I am at this moment. At that moment,Ono,the Japanese actor who became the bedrock of his existence and who was instrumental in driving the other band members away,is with him. Their togetherness is so tight and exclusive of all else that you can see why the others left the two of them alone.
Imagine,the song that he is creating,crystallised his dreams for the world,his idealism, says Ono. I sing about me and my life, he says. Its not us,the Beatles,any longer,rapping,laughing,making music. You can,in that one statement,see where he started and where he is now. By the end of the film,Lennon is World Famous Popstar,on the verge of going not too gently into the good night (he would have been 69 on October 9). And who is remembered most by that song,by all those people,living for today.