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Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami review - a slow study of pop’s enigma | reviews, news & interviews

Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami review - a slow study of pop’s enigma

Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami review - a slow study of pop’s enigma

Sophie Fiennes's documentary captures moments of real insight

Grace Jones live in New YorkSophie Fiennes

Who is the real Grace Jones? This is the central question that drives Sophie Fiennes’s documentary, Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami. After 115 minutes, you might be less sure of the answer than when you go in. The title is Jamaican for a recording booth’s red light and bread, the substance of life.

It’s appropriate for a film which juxtaposes the abstract visual feast of Jones’s live show with her modest upbringing in Jamaica. One minute we’re witnessing green lasers dance off her sparkled bowler hat, next she’s playing jacks in the small farmhouse next to where she grew up. The two situations bleed across each other in the edit, just as they do in Jones’ life.

The film is in no way a retrospective of Jones’ career – the greatest musical insight offered is occasional studio footage of her 2008 comeback album Hurricane. It’s somewhat of a shame as the performances are captivating, and watching the songs grow from the studio to live show is a rare experience. Bloodlight and Bami is far more of a character piece, focusing on one of pop’s greatest enigmas. Revelations of Jones’s key life moments come through relaxed conversations with family around dinner, or among friends backstage.

The person who looms largest over proceedings is the fearful Mas P, or Master Peart, her abusive step-grandfather. Throughout the film, Jones and her siblings try to come to terms with his violence by talking with each other and old neighbours. She reveals that the confrontational and imposing persona that she’s created for herself was influenced by Mas P, a fact she clearly feels uncomfortable about.

Moments like this are fascinating but sparse across the film’s near two-hour runtime. Fiennes is in no rush to tell the story, with plenty of shots lingering on Jamaica’s beautiful landscapes or Jones’s New York hotel rooms; though it does add to the atmosphere, it deprives the narrative of drive.Grace Jones in Sligoville, JamaicaThis approach will undoubtedly distance some casual music fans, but the film does reward those who are willing to stay engaged. In early scenes, it’s rather striking to see Grace Jones laughing and relaxing around family. Can such a controversial icon really be so down-to-earth and normal? 

Near the end, Jones boasts about her ability to hold a crowd while enjoying a champagne breakfast in her hotel room. This is perhaps much closer to people’s expectations. The title Bloodlight and Bami doesn’t just represent her career and upbringing; it embodies the two sides of her personality. Jones on the road is an outrageous, unpredictable, intimidating star, with an unplaceable accent to match. Back home in Jamaica she’s relaxed, grounded and talks as if she never left her birthplace of Spanish Town. 

It’s disappointing that such a fascinating subject occasionally gets lost in the long runtime; there are some brilliant sequences and Fiennes captures real moments of insight. As for the question of who is the real Grace Jones, perhaps the answer’s too complicated for us to ever truly know.


Can such a controversial icon really be so down-to-earth and normal?


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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