Sophie Fiennes struggled with getting funding for her documentary following Grace Jones. Isn’t Jones too old? Hasn’t she already had her 15 minutes? No. The answer is no. Jones is as vibrant and creative as ever.
Bloodlight refers to the ‘recording live’ light in a studio and bami is ‘bread’ in Jamaican. This is very much the story of both aspects of Jones’ life, the childhood growing up with four siblings and her grandparents in Jamaica and her career as a model, singer, actor, fashion icon and queer hero. The film intersperses live performance footage with footage of her everyday life, allowing one to reference the other.
Fiennes had already made a piece about Jones’ brother, such was the relationship between the two women that Grace asked Sophie to follow her as she moved around the globe alternately performing on a ‘tacky’ French show ‘I look like the Madame of a lesbian brothel’ and shouting at Michael about hotel rooms. We never meet Michael but he better have delivered. Jones’ accent wanders as much as she does – moving between almost cut glass British to New York to fluent French to Kingston Jamaican. She inhabits all the worlds with equal presence and her sharp tongue. Mourning the loss of night life on the Champs Elysees to dismissing the stamina of modern New Yorkers ‘people leaving a party at 11.30pm? They must be depressed.’ She pulses in a nightclub in a beautiful sequence that captures the euphoria of being totally lost in the power of music.
Fiennes spent twelve years in the entourage and the intimacy achieved is clear throughout. Grace orders champagne breakfast wearing nothing but a fur, Grace in the recording studio creating music, Grace visiting Miss Myrtle who she lived next door to as a child. This is truly a portrait documentary. Long lingering shots of landscape, half visible moments viewed through a door frame. Fiennes sits you as an observer at a level with everyone else and Jones is perfectly at ease with it. There is no exposition in a voiceover or onscreen graphics. You walk in halfway and as an audience have to discover what is happening and where we are. The footage quality is, by modern standards poor, only adding to the feeling of a home movie uncovered and released. It may be a tricky watch at first for those used to HD or intrusive question and answer, but Jones is so engaging that the journey itself is easy to follow. I would simply liked to have seen more, but then you should always leave them wanting more.
The live footage shows exactly what has made Grace Jones an icon. The elaborate hats from Phillip Treacy are the only decoration. The rest is all her. Not choreographed, no back up dancers, simple but striking sets are around this beautiful dark skinned woman who vibrates with energy. There are pretenders to her crown but if the roof fell in, the lights failed, and the band didn’t show up would they capture your attention? Grace Jones sure as hell does.