Director: Sophie Fiennes
With: Grace Jones, Jean-Paul Goude, Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare, Ivor Guest
Watch Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami online in the UK: Netflix UK / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Google Play
Directed by Sophie Fiennes and filmed over several years, Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami is part fly-on-the-wall documentary and part concert film. The title refers to two significant Jamaican words: “Bloodlight” is a slang term for the red light that illuminates when an artist is recording and “Bami” means bread, the substance of life. Aside from alliteration, those two terms offer a succinct summary of the film, which attempts to present Grace the extraordinary stage performer alongside a more intimate impression of her private life.
Structurally, the film interweaves concert footage from Jones’ 2009 world tour with seemingly random fly-on-the-wall material shot during a four year period, around the financing and recording of her 2008 album Hurricane in Jamaica. Consequently, Fiennes’ most interesting decision on the film also gives rise to its most frustrating element – in eschewing the traditional rock-doc staples of talking head interviews, onscreen captions or archive footage, the film presents its subject with a lack of context that will surely be bewildering to audience members with only a vague knowledge of Jones’ life and career. Even for long-time fans, it’s a little odd to not have so much as a photograph of Grace at the peak of her modelling career, or anything pertaining to her film appearances. Even the notorious clip of Jones thumping TV host Russell Harty during a BBC interview is conspicuous by its absence, although that does at least get a mention, in the form of an amusing reminiscence from Jones.
Given the lack of context, the audience is forced to play close attention during the more intimate sequences, and that’s a trade-off that almost works. Certainly, Fiennes succeeds in capturing something of Jones’ fierce spirit – even at 69, she’s still a force to be reckoned with, as two of the film’s best sequences attest. In the first, she angrily deals with a phone call about an unpaid hotel bill, commenting, “sometimes you have to be a high-flying bitch”; and in the second, she throws a righteous strop at a French TV producer when she discovers she’s to be surrounded by scantily clad female dancers for a live performance. (“Are there any male dancers? I look like the lesbian madam in a whorehouse!”)
Similarly, Jones’ time spent with her family in Jamaica offers up some potentially illuminating information, as she talks about her abusive, violent step-grandfather Master Patrick or “Mas P”. In a contemplative moment, Jones reveals, “I’m playing out Mas P. That’s why I’m scary. That’s the male dominant scary person I become”, which shines an intriguing light on her stage persona, although the film never returns to that idea.
On a more positive note, the concert footage is extremely impressive, with a corset-clad Jones belting out numbers like Slave to the Rhythm, My Jamaican Guy, La Vie en Rose and Pull Up to the Bumper” against eye-popping staging conceived by the late Japanese art director Eiko Ishioka. She also wears a number of quite extraordinary hats (by Philip Treacy) and quite frankly, the film is worth seeing for the hats alone.
Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami is available on Netflix UK, as part of £7.99 monthly subscription.
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