True/False Film Fest: 'Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami'
Director Sophie Fiennes mixes concert film with arresting cinéma vérité family portrait.
Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami
13 April 2018
Filmmaker Sophie Fiennes spent more than five years filming Jones in Jamaica, chatting with her sister's family, her brother, their mother. The result doesn't paint a neat biographical portrait. However, one gets fly-on-the-wall insight into what it was like to be in a room with Jones at this stage in her life, with cursory spoken references and anecdotes to her beginnings and career as a supermodel, singer, and actress, but it's assumed the audience is already familiar with all that.
Fiennes juxtaposes the myriad intimate scenes with live concert footage, which was revealed not in the film but during the Q & A at True/False Film Fest, to have been filmed in Dublin about two years prior, and that it was orchestrated for the purposes of this film. An emerging trend in documentaries of late, including others at this year's True/False Film Fest, is to orchestrate events that otherwise might not happen, so that the filmmakers can film the behind-the-scenes production. Grace Jones does it better, though, as it's a proper concert with a Dublin audience that appears gobsmacked to see Jones in concert. Indeed, ine fan tells her, as she is signing his record, that he's been waiting 25 years for this moment. In the concert footage she owns the stage, performing songs like "La Vie en Rose" and "Slave to the Rhythm". Jones' voice is still incredibly strong, and she has an impressive amount of energy on stage and as many outlandish and artistic costume changes as a Lady Gaga concert.
Jones at home, filmed in a Cinéma vérité style, is still very much larger than life, owning every room she is in. We see her fighting with colleagues over the phone; we see her showering and lamenting what idiots they are; we see her sharing anecdotes backstage with the crew; we see her giving her niece a backstory of how her mother and Jones were beaten as children while being forced to read the bible. We see through the windshield of a jeep ferrying them through villages and hills with a little Jamaican flag dangling from the rear-view mirror. We see her and her brother chatting with a woman who knew them as children, Mrs. Myrtle's house, and Jones says she feels like she's six years old again. We see her brother asking Mrs. Myrtle if she always knew Grace would become a famous actress, to which Mrs. Myrtle replies, "Oh sure, baby!"
Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami (trailer still)
Fiennes leaves out some biographical information, e.g., how she met Andy Warhol, how she found success, what happened next, etc. The spotlight is predominantly on Jones' in the spotlight. In one of the backstage scenes, we see her telling a friend, "If the lights go out, if the roof blows off, I can still perform and hold the audience without all the trimmings." During the Q&A it was revealed that Jones didn't rehearse for the concert -- she intuited the blocking simply based on how the lights were set. Now that's a pro.
Jones was born in Spanish Town, Jamaica, in 1948. We see the unpaved neighborhood she ran around in today. While she and her siblings were still very young, their parents moved to the US and left them to be raised by their grandmother and step-grandfather, an abusive disciplinarian who forced a strict religious upbringing on the children. Some of the conversations are difficult to follow, as we enter into the middle of many, but the film seems to exclude any mention of Jones and her siblings reuniting with their parents in New York when she was 13. It would have been enlightening to hear about Jones' life during the '60s counterculture scene, when she was going to gay clubs and taking LSD in New York, studying acting in Philadelphia, and staying in hippie communes. One wonders, What influence did Jones have on the Reagan-Thatcher era, with her unique androgynous look? Why did she stop recording albums after 1989? Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami's intent is simply to show Jones as she is today, still loving her family, still performing magnificently to enthusiastic fans.