In some alternate universe out there, there’s a film by Paul Greengrass starring Anthony Mackie as the talented and troubled Jimi Hendrix. Sadly, we don’t live in that universe because Experience Hendrix has officially denied the rights to the man’s music to be used for the project.
The explanation given was that they feared the film would hurt sales of the back catalog. Of course, anyone who’s kept up with the aborted attempts and the successful adaptations of Hendrix’s life knows that’s just a press-friendly excuse. The real reason is a fear of how the guitar master will be portrayed when it comes to his drug abuse.
Before the Greengrass project was announced in 2009 with Legendary effectively crafting the script and talent package to entice Experience Hendrix into granting rights, there was the attempt from Dragonslayer in 2006. Admittedly, the company that claimed they had the rights (and didn’t) and Quentin Tarantino attached to direct (he wasn’t) didn’t have the best strategy, especially when they tried to go ahead with production after losing a court battle regarding rights ownership.
In various stages of development, everyone from Prince to Andre 3000 to Eddie Murphy has been slated to play the guitar-burning rocker, but no one ever got truly close. Apparently, neither did Hurt Locker star Anthony Mackie – even if he is the best possible talent on the roster (and eerily looks like a live ringer for Hendrix).
These projects, like the one with Greengrass involved, were turned down for the simple reason that they wanted to tell the truth about the man’s life. The estate takes issue with that, and it’s easy to see why. For the most part, Hendrix is an ethereal legend that played soul-soaring guitar riffs, did the adequate amount of drugs for the 1960s and changed the sonic world forever. The truth, of course, it far darker – especially when it comes to the drug abuse and the music scene of the Free Love Generation. That’s what would make the film compelling, and that’s what Experience Hendrix is afraid of.
As an odd counterpart, Experience Hendrix allowed production to go through on a television movie titled Hendrix back in 2000 which is almost un-watchably watered down. That seems to be the key. Cut out the debilitating drug culture, and your biopic gets the go-ahead.
Which is a sad situation. On the one hand, it’s of course the estate’s right to protect the legacy of Jimi Hendrix in whatever way they see fit. On the other, a Greengrass-helmed Hendrix biopic with Anthony Mackie in the lead role would have held great potential (especially for an Oscar nomination for Mackie). Plus, the drug use and romantic history is all an open secret. Anyone looking for it can find it easily. Still, it seems clear that the estate doesn’t want to broadcast it.
The estate reportedly axed the idea earlier in the year and has no intention of changing their minds. The bright side is that there are still over directors out there, and Anthony Mackie is still a rising star that can circle this project. The dim future is that, unless the mindset of Experience Hendrix changes, there will only be sugar-coated biopics or no biopics at all.
What do you think?