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'12 Years a Slave' Oscar winner spotlights rock legend Jimi Hendrix

Writer John Ridley holds up his award for best adapted screenplay for "12 Years a Slave" as he arrives with his wife Gayle at the 2014 Vanit
Writer John Ridley holds up his award for best adapted screenplay for "12 Years a Slave" as he arrives with his wife Gayle at the 2014 Vanit

By Jon Herskovitz

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - At nearly the same time filming of "12 Years a Slave" began in Louisiana, the man who would win an Academy Award for writing its screenplay was in Dublin to start shooting his movie about the year that changed the life of rock guitar icon Jimi Hendrix.

"Jimi: All Is by My Side" from writer and director John Ridley was shown this week at the South by Southwest film festival in Austin, Texas. The small film drew much greater attention thanks to Ridley's Academy Award.

"There is this added thing now, and people will see it through that prism of the Oscar," Ridley, who won the award for best adapted screenplay for "12 Years a Slave," said in an interview this week.

The movie, starring the hip hop duo Outkast's André Benjamin as Hendrix, looks at a year in the life of the rock legend when he was an unknown backup guitarist living in New York who moved to London and became a budding star.

The film opens in the United States in June.

Ridley, who wrote and directed the Hendrix film, said there were parallels between Hendrix and Solomon Northup, the man whose narrative was the basis for "12 Years a Slave": Both men were struggling with ways to express themselves.

Northup's struggle was keeping his soul alive while trapped as a slave. Hendrix had to meld rock, blues, jazz, and rhythm and blues into a musical style to call his own.

"What must people don't realize is that when Hendrix was 24 years old, he was pretty much washed up," Ridley said.

The movie shows Hendrix being discovered in New York by Linda Keith, played by Imogen Poots in the movie. Keith, then the girlfriend of Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards, found Hendrix a guitar because he could not afford one, and a manager who took him to London.

In England, Hendrix found his voice, his style, and with his spellbinding performances drew the attention of rock luminaries, including Eric Clapton and the Beatles during his year there spanning 1966 and 1967.

The oddest part of the Hendrix film: There are no Hendrix tunes in it, mostly because his estate would not grant rights to them for the movie.

Critics said that without essential Hendrix songs such as "Purple Haze," "Foxy Lady" or "Little Wing," viewers got an incomplete picture of the man who lit the rock world - and occasionally his guitar - on fire in the late 1960s.

Ridley said that without the Hendrix song catalog at his disposal, he could focus more on what shaped the artist.

In the movie, Hendrix is seen jamming with artists from the era, playing guitar riffs and covers, including a rendition of the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."

In 1970, fans were stunned by Hendrix's drug-related death at age 27.

"When people think of Jimi they think of it as a tragic, tragic story. But in reality, in his life there was a lot of beauty and a lot of connectivity and love," Ridley said. "I wanted to write a story that ended on an upbeat and hopeful note. This will help people revisit songs that they thought they knew."

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)

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