This week I enjoyed a create date with one of my longtime icons, the beautiful, thrilling, comic, creative master, Grace Jones, filmed by Sophie Fiennes in and “official” biopic, Bloodlight and Bami.
“Bloodlight” is the Jamaican words for the red light that comes on when an artist is recording in studio and “bami” for bread.
One of the revelations of the movie is that Grace speaks at least four languages, and three of them are versions of English: her voice, expression and gestures change completely, depending on whether she is speaking American English, English English or Jamaican English.
Filmed over a decade, it’s everything the most ardent fan could want, and this Irish fan was delighted to see it includes a special performance from my favorite nightlife venue in Dublin, The Olympia Theatre.
Another Irish connection is with the milliner, Philip Tracey, and her headgear (the word “hats” doesn’t do them justice) is the other star of this starry, starry show.
Other scenes explore her relationship with drinks, drugs, party life and food and — key to it all — Jamaica and her large Jamaican family.
From Dublin, Paris, London, New York the movie always travels back to Jamaica, where Jones reminisces at length with siblings, cousins, friends and neighbors.
The church featured hugely in her background and, as so often, physical chastisement and abuse.
The family was terrorized by their abusive, violent step-grandfather Master Patrick, or “Mas P”, whose terrifying mannerisms she imitates on stage:
“I’m playing out Mas P,” she says, in the most revelatory line in the film. “That’s why I’m scary. That’s the male dominant scary person I become.”
Another revelation is a scene in a French TV show where the contrast between Grace’s free, feminist, sexual empowerment and the tacky choreography of the scantily dressed female dancers brought in to support her.
Jones explodes at the producer. You’ve made me “look like a madam in a whorehouse!” she protests.
“It’s true,” gasped the woman in the cinema seat beside me,
“I would have liked a bit more about Grace’s younger life.”
“A more dutiful, conventional documentary would have given us at least of glimpse of Jones in her imperial pomp during the 1970s and 1980s: trailblazing fashion model, Studio 54 party animal, New Wave disco diva and movie star. She roomed with Jerry Hall and Jessica Lange, hung out with Andy Warhol, turned down a role in Blade Runner and dated Dolph Lundgren, reportedly torching his trousers during one of their stormy bust-ups. Just a fraction of this rich biographical material might have given Bloodlight and Bami more narrative heft and cultural depth.”
Its a fair comment and we do love our celebrity gossip. That this film has chosen instead to focus on Grace Jones, the great glamazon, now in her 69th year, is to its credit.
It’s an inspiring creative collaboration between two older women who completely “get” and respect each other — as women and as artists.
Here’s the official trailer
Here is the Q&A from the Toronto film festival where Fiennes and the divine Miss Jones talk about using the songs to provide the story arc of the film, what to do when you forget the words, and the dangers of rehearsing: “You lose that lively magic created the adrenaline of panic.”
And finally, an interview from Seventh Row that gives a fascinating insight into the creative process that made the movie. Click here to watch.