An intensely observational documentary, Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami is Sophie Fiennes’ ambitious exploration of the icon and the enigma that is Grace Jones. Combining striking stage performances with more intimate footage of Jones in hotel rooms, dressing rooms and in her native home of Jamaica, Sophie Fiennes’ bold approach to her equally bold subject creates a fascinating but convoluted portrayal of the model, actress, performer, singer, artist and inspiration. Shot over several years, we follow Jones around the world as she jumps from hotel room to taxi to stage to photoshoot – often taking refuge with family and friends in Jamaica between these chaotic professional demands. However, this is largely presumption as the film gives no sense of linearity or chronology. It’s often impossible to determine where or when we are but one thing remains the same; we are always in the company of Grace. She floods into every frame, consuming everything and everyone around her, a constant fascination and centre piece for us the audience. What echoes through the somewhat confused final film is an evident strong sense of trust between filmmaker and muse. Here, Fiennes is gifted with wonderful access to all aspects of Jones but perhaps doesn’t utilise this to its full advantage. Although the film is technically disappointing, Fiennes makes the intelligent decision to not try to define Jones and instead celebrates and accepts her as undefinable, a legend and a labyrinth that she welcomes the audience to try to identify and solve alongside her – ultimately basking in an obvious inability to do so. Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami is a celebration of a strong black woman, who was just that long before society said it was acceptable to be so. Her influence and strength cannot be underplayed or underestimated.
Despite respecting Fiennes’ ambition to remove talking heads, interviews and archive footage from the form she’s working within, I found the film lacked context which would have ultimately enhanced audience experience or at least justified the film’s bloated and self-indulgent running time. The film hits the two-hour mark and feels even longer, packed out with repetitive footage and at least thirty minutes of unnecessary filler. Still, what Fiennes has made is a film for the fans about a woman who needs no introduction. I first encountered Grace Jones through repeated childhood viewings of A View to a Kill and have never really been exposed to her music or artistry, as a result it is the performance footage that I found the most enjoyable. Sadly, the contrast of the handheld aesthetic of the personal and the higher definition sections of public performance are not dramatic enough. The film lacks an attention to the audible, visual and editorial, sadly not utilising or capturing the full impact of her stage presence. Simultaneously, the hand-held footage feels painfully amateur and lacks the subversion needed, recently demonstrated much more effectively in Nick Broomfield’s Whitney: Can I Be Me. Despite its tendency to meandering and its lack of technical conviction, it’s a joy to be in the presence of Grace Jones. For at-least half of the time I was absorbed in her enigmatic manner, as she converses fluently in more than one language and constantly changes her accent. Jones is a mosaic of different cultural influences and Fiennes’ invites us to try to unpick all the pieces that make up this complex and charismatic icon.
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