Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami
2018, R, 115 min. Directed by Sophie Fiennes.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., April 27, 2018
Documentary films about musicians can be hit-or-miss affairs, either too VH1’s Behind the Music or, when the star(s) align, masterpieces like D. A. Pennebaker’s Bob Dylan: Don’t Look Back and Bradley Beesley’s Flaming Lips mindblower The Fearless Freaks. Happily, Fiennes' intimate, eclectic, and downright ecstatic portrait of the chameleonic singer, actress, and revolutionary style icon is a near perfect document of Jones’ boundless creativity, live-wire presence both on and off stage or screen, and utterly unique artistic nonconformity. While her musical notoriety and the Studio 54 era that dominated much of her late Seventies and Eighties career have arguably faded, her fiery determination and pantherlike fierceness are altogether undimmed. True, if you ask an average millennial what they think of Grace Jones you’ll likely receive a shrug or a puzzled look in response, but her early avant-garde disco discography – “Warm Leatherette,” that sultry cover of Iggy Pop and David Bowie’s “Nightclubbing,” and her longtime association with Kingston production extraordinaires Sly and Robbie – is the stuff of legend for those who where there and remember, as well as explosive creative fuel for upcoming artists of all stripes.
Like a glittering fly on the wall, Bloodlight and Bami chronicles not only Jones’ personal history, and monumental battles with the now mostly defunct corporate music industry, but also the recording of her 2008 comeback album Hurricane after a 19 year “retirement” (during which she remained just as busy and outrageous as ever). Fiennes' film, shot over the course of 12 years and edited to the thrumming beat of its subject’s relentlessly life-affirming, gender-obliterating joie de vivre is a marvel of strung-together moments of Grace under pressure, but also relaxing with her extended Jamaican family over a meal of the traditional casaba dish “bami” and snapshots of her seriously unbanal daily life. Arising phoenixlike from a childhood filled with abuse and extreme Christian stricture to become a top model and fearless heroine to freaks everywhere – especially in Europe, where her cover of Edith Piaf’s “La Vie En Rose” and her ne plus ultrasurrealistic stage shows are revered by seemingly one and all – Fiennes' documentary reveals a more emotionally complex and dare I say it, “human” person behind all of those infamous masks, and the shockingly daring performance/art. Nowhere is this more evident than in Bloodlight and Bami’s structure, which feels feverishly dreamlike while keeping its subject firmly rooted in the present. If you desire a female empowering musical manifesto with both claws and kisses, here it is.