“Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami”

The Real Grace Jones

Amos Lassen

Filmed over the course of ten years, director Sophie Fiennes brings us a stylish and unconventional look at Grace Jones, the Jamaican-born model, singer, and New Wave icon.

Jones, the statuesque Jamaican model-turned-singer, actress and icon has made a career performing versions of herself. Yet, we never know who is the real Grace Jones behind the masks and makeup? This film moves between her various personae onstage and off. This is not a traditional music biography with sit-down interviews and archival footage. This treatment is as stylish and unconventional as its subject. In the subtitle, “bloodlight” refers to the studio signal for recording and “bami” is a Jamaican flatbread. They stand for art and life.

We gain entry into Jones’s private spaces: her family in Jamaica, in the studio with long-time collaborators Sly & Robbie, and in Paris with her one-time image-maker and lover, Jean-Paul Goude. She demonstrates that you wouldn’t want to go against her. “Sometimes you have to be a high-flying bitch.” We also see her in sweet and vulnerable moments.

Interspersed throughout the film are performances from a 2016 concert staged for Fiennes’ camera. Strutting the stage like an Amazon in heels, Jones performs songs such as “Slave to the Rhythm,” “Love is the Drug” and “Amazing Grace” with multiple costume changes. Whatever mysteries she conceals, we can’t take our eyes off her.

The film opens with two separate performances of the same song from a 2016 concert. In the first, Jones prowls the stage catlike, purring from behind an Eiko Ishioka-designed death mask. In the second, she croons the same lyrics while effortlessly, endlessly twirling a hula-hoop. We see that Jones is both these people, and more. She reinvents herself as whim and circumstance dictate and Fiennes’s film follows that lead.

The majority of the film is comprised of low-res DV footage following Jones on different tours, in the recording studio and on a visit home (apparently circa 2005) to her family in Jamaica. It’s an eclectic approach that works once we realize that the gorgeous concert footage is of secondary concern.

Fiennes is more interested in visually and aurally personifying Jones’s raw, often ragged creative process. The sense is that, off stage, Jones is an icon navigating perpetually muddy waters, with a different face for every occasion. No one persona, however, cancels out any of the others. There’s no real grounding to Fiennes’s method. There are moments (especially in the Jamaica-set sequences, in which Jones near-fully blends in among her family, friends, and community) where it seems as if we’re watching a whole other human being—one who never attained stardom, but only dreamed it. The effect of Fiennes’s unmoored approach to her subject is to take us out of normal time and put us on Grace Jones time while we see a true star living life on her own terms.

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