Grace Jones is an icon in so many fields, it’s hard to keep track.
She’s had success as a model, actress, singer, performance artist, fashion icon and businesswoman, and it would seem—if you believe the portrait of her provided by the endlessly fascinating documentary Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami—that if you are brave enough to work with her on any of her endeavors, you risk both facing her wrath and being the object of her undying affection, sometimes in the same minute.
Part concert film, part history lesson, the movie (from accomplished documentarian Sophie Fiennes, sister of Ralph and Joseph) is not a comprehensive examination into Jones’ life and career. We learn a great deal about her upbringing in Spanish Town, Jamaica, thanks to a trip she takes to the island to visit her extended family and record new music. We also get a sense of what she is up to now thanks to the portions of the film that are like a tour documentary, giving us glimpses into her rehearsal process, costume decisions, and even business dealing with concert promoters who she believes at times are trying to cheat her.
Not surprisingly, some of the best footage is of Jones (who, at the time of this writing, is just a couple of weeks shy of 70) doing her thing on stage, performing a handful of numbers in front of an enthusiastic crowd. With a sound mix that turns up the vocals just enough that we can understand every word, we begin to realize just how many of her songs, in particular “Williams’ Blood” and “Hurricane,” feature extremely personal lyrics about her upbringing. Other classics, such as “Slave to the Rhythm,” “Pull Up to the Bumper,” and her cover of Roxy Music’s “Love Is the Drug,” are just stone-cold, pulsating dance classics featuring aggressively creative stagings to match.
For a film that runs a full two hours, we are given almost no information about the bulk of Jones’ career. I’m not sure if Fiennes assumes we know the highlights of her career (I know some, but far from all) or simply wasn’t interested in telling that part of her story, opting instead to illustrate how her childhood impacted the way she steered and ran the rest of her life. The impact of going through such a music-focused film also gives people with a casual appreciation of her songs a chance to really hear them and be floored by her phrasing and sometimes haunting vocal style.
At the very least, Bloodlight and Bami portrays Jones as roughly as human and volatile as the rest of us, and not some androgynous space alien come to earth with a mind-boggling hat and wig collection to seduce and scare us at the same time. It’s an undeniably impactful and impressively put together work about a rarified human being, who I am now eager to learn more about.
The film opens today at the Music Box Theatre.