THE DOCUMENTARY "Jimi Hendrix: Hear My Train A Comin' " on "American Masters"
WHEN | WHERE Tuesday night at 9 on WNET/13
WHAT IT'S ABOUT Jimi Hendrix was born Nov. 27, 1942, died Sept. 18, 1970, and over those 27 years somehow managed to become the most celebrated electric blues and rock guitarist in the world, remaining so to this day. With a little help from his friends, including Paul McCartney, Chas Chandler (ex-bassist for The Animals who launched him in the United Kingdom and died in 1996), Billy Cox, bassist and ex-Army buddy Mitch Mitchell, his drummer on the Jimi Hendrix Experience and many others -- this documentary lays out how. The best quote comes from McCartney, who speaks of getting "very emotional" just recalling a Hendrix performance, and thinking, "I was there!"
MY SAY Long, long overdue, Hendrix finally gets his gorgeous "American Masters" portrait, but watching this (and learning of his aversion to praise) you may also wonder whether he'd cringe through every frame. The unspoken rule of "Masters" is to pile on the love -- so much so that the rough edges of any subject are smoothed away into oblivion. Even the circumstances of Hendrix's death here are sanitized. (He took a couple of sleeping pills and didn't know how strong they were. Uh huh.) Friends and colleagues speak of an essentially sweet guy who (in the argot of the day) dug the ladies, and just wanted to play his guitar all day. No doubt this is all true, but you suspect that's not the whole story either -- or even part of it. People are too complex, and logic tells you that Hendrix -- as giant a figure in the history of rock as ever there was -- must have been doubly so. Mostly you want a rollicking, wild ride of a portrait that matched the man, the music and, yes, the anti-war movement for which he essentially wrote the soundtrack. Think something messy and slightly anarchic, like the
Maysles brothers' "Gimme Shelter," D.A. Pennebaker's "Don't Look Back," Martin Scorsese's "No Direction Home" or just about anything out there on the Sex Pistols and The Ramones. Great rock docs reflect the greatness and power of the subject. But even the spectacular assemblage of friends and footage here can't quite push this film into that special place.
BOTTOM LINE Incredible footage, Paul McCartney and crisply told. But way too polite.