Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami review

After so many Netflix documentaries full of talking heads explaining the film to you, it is a relief to get a more observational, artful one like Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami. At two hours, it is part verite diary, part live performance piece, foregoing interviews and background information altogether (unless Jones happens to talk about it herself). While it may be hard to follow at times, it is never less than immensely intriguing. The 69 year old Jamaican American model turned singer turned actress has spent her life as an enigmatic icon- seeming almost untouchable, floating above all the noise. Yet what is impressive about Bloodlight and Bami is that it showcases Jones’ most admirable quality- how positively, absolutely, unapologetically human she really is.

Director Sophie Fiennes (sister of Ralph!) followed Jones around for years, filming her in professional, intimate, flattering and unflattering moments- basically, real life. Jones, in a New York Times interview, stated that once she decided that she trusted Fiennes, she just pretended that she wasn’t there. This is fortunate for us as viewers, because Jones holds nothing back, often seeming unaware of the camera, rarely speaking directly to it (except for one great scene, where she speaks right at the lens in the midst of a hotel room champagne brunch the morning after a performance). We get practically everything- from hula hooping, to shucking oysters, to taking some kind of incredible looking shower bath, to yelling at agents over the phone, to switching into Patois to plead with her backing musicians. Yet beyond the lush and lavish life of a famous artist, when she is visiting home in Jamaica with her family she seems…normal. Her family dinners play out like yours might, with the spirit of people who enjoy being in each other’s company and reminiscing about times gone by. Whatever insight we may gather into the mind of Jones is taken from her own mouth, in the context of relating to others.

Then there are the performances, interspersed, each with a different stage setup, a new outfit, and most importantly a new hat. I had never seen a film where the opening credits feature a “Hats Designed By” tag. Yet once you see this extravagant headwear put to use, you understand why. They look incredible, accenting the pleasures of the music and the performance.

Part of this film is undoubtedly a portrait of her aging process, and there’s no way you can watch this and think she isn’t an example of how to age well. She seems to have lost none of the spark she ever had, never really stopping to bemoan the ravages of time. For me, beyond her talents, this aspect of her personality grew to be the most inspiring thing about her. On multiple occasions, Jones references staying up all night and watching the sunrise- either as a favorite past-time or just as something she tended to do in her younger days. Even as her future holds more of a sunset than a sunrise, after watching this film, you know that she will greet that setting sun with the same lust for life.

Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami opens at the Ritz East today.

Author: Andy Elijah

I am a musician and music therapist who loves movies too. Raised in Maryland, I have been proud to call Philadelphia home for five years. Sounds can be heard at Baker Man and Drew. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd

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