Jimi Hendrix on DVD

Jimi Hendrix, Little Richard, Pete Townshend, Mick Jagger, Eric Clapton. Aspect ratios: 4:3 (full-frame), 16:9 (anamorphic). Dolby Digital 2.0. 102 minutes. 1973. Warner Bros. 11267. R. $24.95.

Today, the phrase "guitar god" is a cliché. At one time, it seemed dangerously sacrilegious and cool—and it described Jimi Hendrix better than anyone. He was the quintessential '60s guitarist and rock icon, the soulful Shiva of psychedelia, come not to create clichés but to destroy them.

Yet his music and stage act have become clichés—not because what he wrote, played, or did on stage was hackneyed, but because he's the most copied and worshipped guitarist in rock'n'roll. Check out bands in local bars and you'll find wanks playing guitars with their teeth, behind their backs, and so on. They're doing it because they've seen other wanks before them do it, and those wanks watched Hendrix and wanted to be like him.

Jimi Hendrix tries to capture what those guitarists are trying to seize—what Hendrix was on stage and who he was offstage. It succeeds in the sense that it shows him at the big festivals—Monterey Pop, Isle of Wight, Woodstock—and elsewhere, and through anecdotes about him via short interviews with friends and families. But, like those guitarists who try to conjure up his magic, the documentary fails to reveal Hendrix's essence. That just might be impossible to do except by listening to his music, rather than watching him play it or hearing others yap about it.

We get to watch and listen as he plays "Hey, Joe," "Purple Haze," "Machine Gun," "Johnny B. Goode," "Wild Thing," "Red House," "Rock Me Baby," "The Star-Spangled Banner" (from Woodstock), "Like a Rolling Stone," and "In From the Storm." Like most filmed performances from the '60s and early '70s, the sound isn't as good as what we're used to today, lacking bass and depth. The visuals are marred by some specks and scratches, but that's to be expected. The occasional digital artifacts are distracting, however, and evidence that not enough care was taken with the DVD authoring. The extras are minimal: a theatrical trailer and a cursory biography.

Much of what you'll see on Jimi Hendrix you've probably seen before: the snippet from The Dick Cavett Show, for instance, and the Monterey, Isle of Wight, and Woodstock performances. The musical performances are worth seeing again, but it's definitely better to listen to Jimi on the remastered reissues of his albums.