In Grace Jones: Bloodlight & Bami (2017), director Sophie Fiennes follows Jones, documenting her from 2008 while she was recording her last album, Hurricane, in Jamaica. The documentary is an intimate fly-on-the-wall affair, shot cinema-verite style in the fashion of tour classics like D.A. Pennebaker’s Don’t Look Back. The movie conveys Jones’ many personas as an artist, performer, mother, lover, model, singer and business manager who has influenced and challenged the milieu of music, fashion, gender norms and art since achieving international stardom in the late 1970’s.
Bloodlight and Bami features intimate footage with Jones’ family visit to Jamaica, contrasting her work in the studio and on the road, performing internationally in France, Ireland, England, and the United States. Those looking for any historical overview of the acclaimed singer’s career will be left in the dark, as the film uses no archival material or photographs, focusing strictly on the present day. The family scenes in Jamaica are the film’s emotional nexus. We see her brother Noel Jones, a preacher, expressing how discipline helped shape each of the Jones’ siblings’ personalities. Fiennes films Miss Myrtle, Jones’ grandmother and the caretaker for the siblings for most of their childhood. As they visit, Grace reminisces about the beatings they received, describing each belt as having one of their names on it, the lashings especially formulated to provide individualized “discipline” differing in width, length and texture. Interestingly, Jones never speaks of these events in a critical context. This gives the impression that her spunky personality and intense drive may have come to fruition from coping with years of childhood trauma and strict Christian values, justified by disciplinary measures from her grandparents before moving to the United States from Jamaica to join her parents.
Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber
The best moments in the film are the glimpses we get of Jones displaying the focused fortitude and business acumen that got her where she is today. She still manages her own business affairs, including booking hotels and scheduling musicians to back her on Hurricane, her first release of new material in 19 years. When a musician flakes out on a recording session, she calls him on the phone. Her controlled, intentional approach hones in on what his ineptitude is costing her financially, explaining that his unacceptable behavior is costing her money in the form of booked studio time and that she is paying for these expenses out-of-pocket in order to maintain creative control. Another memorable scene shows her in Paris, where she is being filmed before a live audience for a television performance. On a pink “disco” stage, Jones is dressed in a Philip Treacy creation and singing “La Vie en Rose” as a glittery purple alien queen, oddly surrounded by five women dancers in skimpy lingerie and fluffy boas, gyrating on stools with dry ice effects billowing from their feet. The following scene, we see her backstage talking to the artistic director, calling him out for his sexism and the demeaning situation in which he placed the dancers, explaining that she feels that she is being portrayed as their “pimp” or “madam.” His annoying smirk and lack of meaningful input shows that the man does not understand what Jones is getting at, perhaps confusing the 1970s images of Jones in transparent clothing with sexual promiscuity and desire, not liberation, power, and control. It raises the question of how white men, especially straight white men of roughly her age, perceive her art, seeing it strictly in sexual terms and Jones herself as an exotic “other” to be subjugated at will through sexist creative processes.
The concert footage is definitely the highlight of the film. Her choreography, costume design and stage presence conveys that age is just a number to Jones, as she hula hoops and performs before sold-out international crowds, singing such classics as “Warm Leatherette”, “Pull Up to the Bumper”, “Slave to the Rhythm”, “Nipple to the Bottle,” and “Love is the Drug” (with laser light). Bloodlight and Bami is a complimentary dessert to Jones’ 2015 autobiography, Grace Jones: I’ll Never Write My Memoirs, which personalizes an international iconic woman and gives a more comprehensive overview of her life and career.
By Karen Lee (Weekend Family Music Hour) & Jim Bunnelle (Center for Cassette Studies).