Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami Review
There are few icons who offer the same sort of presence as Grace Jones. Striding across four decades of pop culture she remains a complete one-of-a-kind, having broken down barriers that black artists and female performers remain indebted to until today. Sophie Fiennes impressionist portrait follows the supermodel, singer/songwriter, actress and grandmother over the course of a ten year period, reminding us just how fascinating a persona she has remained across the years. With the make-up wiped off and her guard let down, the film reveals Jones in a light rarely seen before now.
The film opens with Jones in her most natural setting; parading across the stage performing to an adoring crowd. A gold glitter decorated hula hoop swings around the waist of her extravagant Jasper Conran waistcoat, her head adorned with a chicly-designed Philip Treacy hat while she purrs into the mic held firmly in her grasp. Later in the film she quietly refers to herself as a visual performer and there is no denying her ability to transfix the viewer with simple but striking imagery. Fiennes began filming when Jones was 59 years old and a decade later she continues to defy the gravity of time.
In between the many live performance sequences that capture Jones in all her statuesque glory, we remain silent observers behind the scenes as she travels from TV shows to hotel suites onto her concerts. Her collaboration with legendary reggae dons Sly & Robbie stretches back to the early 80s when she left behind her disco roots and edged towards wider musical recognition. The duo are seen here working with Jones on what will probably be her last recording, 2008's surprisingly sharp Hurricane. Much of the time is spent following Jones as she returns to her Jamaican roots, meeting old family friends and reminiscing on an early childhood so clearly defined by her strict minister step-grandfather, referred to as ‘Mas P’.
Her niece Chantel and son Paulo (fathered by photographer Jean-Paul Goude who also briefly appears) join Jones on her trip back to old haunts overlooking stunning orange skylines. There appears to be no singular Grace Jones to pin down, which is heard through an ever evolving accent that reflects her chameleon-like existence. After living in France for years she is a fluent speaker and just as comfortable leaning into Jamaican slang. Having grown up in New York the east coast cadence adds curvature to certain words, and when backstage relaxing post-gig easily slips in and out of a northern English twang.
Presuming Fiennes had final say over the content used in the film, it’s a little puzzling as to why we are kept at arm's length from its subject. It’s true that Jones hasn’t been seen in this way before, but equally, given the two hour run time and the ten years taken to curate the footage, the hope was for something more insightful. Even though the time spent in Jamaica opens a past many will be unaware of, it rarely feels intimate enough. Maybe that is purposeful creative choice made by Fiennes to maintain the mystique around one of the last remaining greats from the 80s, the likes of whom we’ll probably never see again.