The line between an obscure flop and a cult favorite may be thin, but it's real, and few films have walked it as patiently as My Dinner with Jimi.
A hit on the independent festival circuit in 2003, the 90-minute film (not rated, but approximately PG-13 for language and drug use) had a limited theatrical run in 2007. Now, with its release on DVD, it may finally become for fans of The Turtles-the pop group whose story it tells-what Head has long been to fans of The Monkees: a kaleidoscope through which to catch glimpses of that most dizzyingly centrifugal of decades, the '60s.
Directed by Bill Fishman, My Dinner with Jimi is really two films in one. The first recreates the months in 1967 when The Turtles were transformed by their chart-topping hit "Happy Together" into international stars. It lasts an hour but feels shorter due to the fast pacing necessary to include The Turtles' appearing on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, their late-night hobnobbing with rock royalty in L.A. and London, and the tragicomic draft dodging of the band's frontmen Howard Kaylan (Justin Henry) and Mark Volman (Jason Boggs).
The second film-within-the-film provides the climax. It dramatizes a 4 a.m. dinner with a then little-known Jimi Hendrix (Royale Watkins) that Kaylan had at London's Speakeasy club in 1968. It lasts only 15 minutes but feels longer because it focuses on the two characters.
Hendrix, whose career would soon skyrocket, wants to know how it feels to have a No. 1 record. Kaylan, driven to introspection by the drugs and alcohol he has been consuming all night, confesses that neither fortune nor fame has brought him any nearer to discovering "inner truth" than he ever was. Hendrix urges him to enjoy the ride for all it's worth; after all, it's the "Summer of Love." But for Kaylan, the "Bummer of Love" is more like it.