Sophie Fiennes’ new documentary Bloodlight and Bami, invites us to experience the inner world of Grace Jones
Despite a life spent in the public eye, Grace Jones is still shrouded in mystery. Since the 1970s, she has occupied the role of actress, model, singer and troublemaker and asserted herself as a cultural legend in the process. However, much is still unknown about the art-pop diva. In the new documentary film, Bloodlight and Bami, director Sophie Fiennes attempts to unveil the artist, intertwining footage of her extravagant performances with intimate scenes of her daily life, to explore the many facets of Grace Jones and reconcile the public figure with the private individual.
For many, Jones is synonymous with androgynous style and unbridled flamboyance. Her larger-than-life character and otherworldly aura make her somewhat of a distant and inscrutable figure to the public, too big almost for us to digest. But in this observational work, Fiennes provides us with a glimpse at an unadorned Jones - without the avant-garde costumes but by no means any less enthralling. We see Jones as she travels between Tokyo, Paris, Moscow, London and New York, and embarks on a road trip through her native Jamaica, interacting both with her family and those she grew up with, and those who became part of her life in later years. We also encounter several significant figures along the way, including Jean-Paul Goude, Ivor Guest and Sly & Robbie, as well as experience her many hits, from early anthem Slave to the Rhythm to more recent track Williams’ Blood.
Fiennes, whose filmography includes collaborations with such luminaries as Slavoj Žižek and Anselm Kiefer, originally met Jones when making her first feature Hoover Street Revival (2001) about her older brother, Bishop Noel Jones. In making this film, Fiennes spent over five years with the star and in doing so manages to capture many candid moments of the chameleon-like artist as a lover, mother, daughter, friend, businesswoman, prima donna and unstoppable creative force.
Fiennes says of the experience: “[It] began in a collaborative creative spirit. Grace had fiercely controlled her public image, but made the bold decision to un-mask. She never sought to control my shooting process, and I didn't second-guess the narrative of the film as I was shooting. I just gathered evidence. The film is a deliberately present-tense experience; for me this is the thrill-ride of verité cinema.”
The director eschewed traditional music documentary conventions - customary use of archive footage, talking heads and a chronological narrative structure - in favour of telling Jones’ story through an accumulation of fly-on-the-wall footage layered on top of each other. This collage-like format leaves the viewer to piece together their own narrative of Jones and understand what constitutes the figurative and literal masks she dons.
The documentary’s title is apt. ‘Bloodlight’ is Jamaican slang for the red light in recording studios, and ‘Bami’ is a local type of bread. The combination of the two words highlights a key part of Jones’s personality; she is one who feeds off of using her voice and being able to make a statement, and in this documentary she certainly teaches us the true meaning of being an icon.
Having debuted at Toronto International Film Festival, Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami now hits cinemas worldwide
Published on 28/10/2017