Guest reviewer Andrew Page gets a chance to review a screenplay about one of his idols, Jimi Hendrix.
Hello all. As I work tirelessly around the clock to bring you some fun Scriptshadow changes in the coming months, I’ll be depending on longtime Scriptshadow readers to fill in with the occasional guest review. Today, I want everyone to welcome Andrew Page, who’ll be reviewing a genre I avoid like the plague, the biopic! All you biopic fans rejoice, cause you know these don’t come along often. I’ll be back tomorrow with a strange sci-fi spec.
Premise: The Life Story of Guitar Legend Jimi Hendrix.
About: From Deadline Hollywood – This project was in development with financing from Legendary Pictures CEO Thomas Tull. Several leads were considered for the role of Hendrix, including Outkast’s Andre 3000, Eddie Murphy, and Will Smith, but each approach was rejected by the Hendrix estate, which is currently controlled by Janie Hendrix, the adopted daughter of Hendrix’s late father. Tull went ahead anyway in 2009 and paid Max Borenstein to write a script. Tull and producer Bill Gerber figured they’d bring a package to the Hendrix estate. The script landed The Bourne Ultimatum and United 93 helmer Paul Greengrass, and they approached Anthony Mackie to play Hendrix. The Hendrix estate once again rejected the package in 2010. Without a change in heart from the estate, the project is dead in the water.
Writer: Max Borenstein
Details: 122 pages – 2009 Draft
Good morning to all the movie writers and enthusiasts out there. This is a different voice than you’re used to hearing. That’s because I made a special request to Carson to write a guest post about one of my favorite subjects, Jimi Hendrix. This Black List script was once set to film with funding from Legendary Pictures, had Anthony Mackie to star, and Paul Greengrass in the Director’s chair. Ultimately the Hendrix estate balked on the deal. No idea where it is now.
I have always loved music. In elementary school I would listen to K92’s top 10 every single night until I fell asleep. When I was twelve my parents bought me a boom box with a CD player. I can’t recall the specific details of how or why, but the first album I ever got my hands on was Hendrix’ 1968 release, Electric Ladyland. It was my first love, I listened to it over and over, memorizing every nook and cranny of the music. To this day it is still my favorite album and the body of work that has influenced me the most.
My dad got me my first guitar when I was seventeen. It was Hendrix that made me want to learn to play. But I am not a rockstar or legend. I’ve only ever been on stage once with my guitar. I’m just someone who appreciates music and likes to make his own sounds every now and then. I’d be surprised if Max Borenstein isn’t a musician himself, because he understands exactly what that feels like. One thing that impressed me most about this script was Borenstein’s ability to dial back this huge icon and focus on the human being that Jimi Hendrix was. Throughout the story we are always in-tune with our hero’s outer struggles and how they’re so strongly influenced by what’s going on inside. It makes for a story of dichotomies, constantly exploring both sides of his existence. The question is, is this story genius like its subject? Or novice like me?
JIMI opens in the biggest possible way, with Hendrix himself on stage at Woodstock amidst a rendition of Voodoo Child Slight Return. An important image for us to remember. It’s Jimi at the top of his game, singing from the top of the mountain. And yet, he’s lost. He’s sees something in the audience, something spectacular. An angel, dancing in the crowd. Other-worldly. Is he on drugs? Or is it real?
Move to one week prior at a hotel, Jimi is struggling to escape the fanatics that constantly surround him. He’s searching for a quiet space, somewhere where he can write. Alone. There’s a song desperate to come out. But there’s no quiet to be found. A couple of groupies present him with a Tarot reading. Nowhere to turn, he draws a card. A jack, bearing strong resemblance of himself, the reading speaks of pain and old wounds. Jimi is fascinated. The next four cards are queens, the women you’ve hurt in the past, the root of his pain. He examines the faces of the queens, strikingly familiar…
Back to Woodstock, Jimi is grooving. His own VO continues as he plays during a trippy scene, telling him to “Seek them out. Resolve this past to clear a path to your future.” He scans the crowd, searching for the angel, but she’s gone. A confusing, emotional moment sparks the famous rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. The whole crowd is speechless.
We’re back at the hotel, drawing the final card. A graveyard. Judgment. Jimi realizes, says it himself. “I’m going to die.”
Jimi’s journey continues in present day 1970, Seattle, at home for the first time in two years. He’s there for a show, all the while searching for meaning in his fame and drug-infested existence. He constantly fights with his money-hungry producers, he runs away from his popularity, he battles his own demons. His life is a struggle, but it wasn’t always that way…
Flashback to 1966, Jimi’s in London, 23 years old, with the only woman who could ever handle him. Kathy. His spirit is much younger, he’s yet to prove himself, and he puts on a show for Clapton’s band Cream at a local bar, winning one for his team on the road. Kathy doesn’t like it, or the attention he’s getting backstage ;). But cool Jimi always finds a way back to his woman. When they’re together, he’s just Jimi. Puppy eyes from humble beginnings that likes to strum a guitar.
The story continues on in this fashion, flashing back and forth from the present to different moments in the past. As you can probably figure out, there’s not a lot of GSU going on here. Definitely goal-less. Definitely urgency-less. But Borenstein frames the story in a particularly clever way in the first ten pages. There are four queens from Jimi’s past that he must come to terms with, so every time we flash back we know we’ll be dealing with one of the queens who influenced the man he is in the present. Combine this with the fact that he’s facing his own inevitable death, and we have enough of a structure that we don’t get lost in the story and high stakes keep us invested.
Not to mention we’re examining one of the most interesting artists in history. This guy was the most talented person in the western world at the thing its culture deemed coolest: music. He was a tall, handsome, black man from Seattle sporting outrageous colors. He was divine in many eyes. Controversial. Arrogant. Inspiring. Sincere. And TALENTED! Think about writing half a dozen brilliant screenplays (screenplay = album) before your 27th birthday that people watched over and over. Borenstein handles this with grace, showing not only the most iconic moments in Hendrix’ career but also the moments of intense struggle (conflict!) that helped him get there.
Between his structural technique and the way the ‘quiet’ scenes relate to the ‘louder’ scenes, Borenstein creates a fascinating perspective on expression and the notion of muse. This is what the story is about. The duality of the artist. Pleasing the crowd while staying true to yourself. Many times during the story Hendrix gets caught up in his own act, only to be hit with a more humbling moment as a love from his life abandons him. As artists this material is very thought-provoking if not too familiar (even if on a fraction of the scale). Each scene is loaded with conflict rooted in the fact that the characters never know who’s going to show up, the wild man or the puppy dog. I really think Borenstein does a brilliant job crafting these scenes.
Aside: one thing I love about music is that theme can be demonstrated when looking at the difference between a studio/live version of this song…
…and the acoustic version…
This is what the writer is after, expressing the difference between our hero’s outer struggle and his inner struggle.
Some thoughts on the writing itself… there are LOTS of unfilmables. For the most part they add to the moment in painting a better picture of who Jimi was, but sometimes got a little heavy-handed. Unfilmables are dangerous not only because they are things we can’t see, but they radiate with confidence, which creeps into arrogance in certain moments, and can be very off-putting. You never want to rub a reader the wrong way with your mastery of subject matter. To his credit, Borenstein does a pretty good job of balancing the arrogance of his own writing. When Jimi is getting cocky, the writing gets more confident. When Jimi shies away with fear, the writing grows more timid. It enhances the mood. There were just a few moments where I was like, okay. I get that he’s awesome.
The movie itself would be a spectacle full of excitement, spirituality, and tragedy. It takes us through the course of a cultural renaissance, following the movement’s biggest star and feeling the presence of many others. No doubt a spectacular and fulfilling experience. The only reason this doesn’t earn an impressive is because there are no moments in the storytelling that surprised me emotionally. Still, I think the writer manages to tell the man’s story in a special way.
( ) Wait for the rewrite
( ) Wasn’t for me
(xx) Worth the read
( ) Impressive
( ) Genius
What I learned: I like biopics, but they’re so tough to pull off. When you remove goals and mysteries (engines) it’s extremely difficult to keep a reader interested in your story because we’re no longer concerned with what happens. BUT when you choose to investigate the source of a particular person’s inspiration, you create a reverse-mystery. We are the detectives witnessing the person of the present, seeking the mystery of what happened in the past to yield such a result. It’s a character study, a quest to understand the complexities of a truly unique individual. JIMI is a great example of this technique done well.
Finally, if nothing more than my opportunity to publicly say thank you to Jimi Hendrix for how his music has moved and inspired me, then let this be so. Hope you’re listening.