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Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami (2017) documentary

Video review

An iconic pop singer

This documentary directed by Sophie Fiennes takes a look at the eclectic, androgynous and notoriously temperamental pop singer Grace Jones. It jumps between live gig footage and various candid behind-the-scenes fly-on-the-wall and interview footage. The latter moments include a number chronicling a reunion with her family in Jamaica, prompting a recollection of the ups-and-downs of the childhood experiences of her and her siblings. We also see her out on the road in Paris and elsewhere.

Watch a trailer:

That scary woman from the 1980s

I’ll start this review by admitting that I’m not a Grace Jones buff. I tend to know her as “that scary woman from the 1980s who attacked Russell Harty on his chat show”. Well… that and a brief period of movie stardom during the same decade including the Bond film A View to a Kill, Conan the Destroyer and Vamp. I was unaware that she had made a comeback album in 2008 entitled Hurricane (some footage of the associated tour is included here).

In a nutshell, I entered as a curious viewer rather than a dedicated fan. What I got was a compelling portrait of a truly larger-than-life personality. Grace is both fiery and earthy. She’s more than capable of unleashing aggressive rants at those who let her down: be they her occasional collaborators Sly & Robbie, or a hapless stage choreographer during her Paris show (she accuses him of making the dancing girls accompanying her act behave like hookers). On the other hand we also see her as a loving family member, her terrific rapport with her fans and her sense of humour (while attempting to open an oyster with a knife, she remarks “If only my pussy was as tight as this”).

Background knowledge is recommended

As someone coming into the film not knowing the Jamaican-born singer particularly well, I found the references to her younger background to be somewhat on the muddy side. Grace and her siblings make reference to an abusive childhood which shaped her into the way she is now. However, having looked more deeply into the backstory after watching, I felt the film didn’t quite make it clear that the abuse largely came from her step-grandfather nicknamed “Mas-P” whom she was left with when her parents moved to the USA.

During the Paris-set footage we hear her communicate in fluent French, which prompted me to wonder where she picked it up from. Looking at her Wikipedia page, I found out that she had done some modelling in the French capital during the 1970s. While a lack of foreknowledge doesn’t spoil the impact of the documentary, it could have done a little more to fill in the blanks.

Director Sophie Fiennes has collated the footage together from the past decade. However, the visual quality varies; the concert shots look fantastic and genuinely do justice to the ostentatious glamour of her shows. However, the scenes filmed in Jamaica are rather grainy and oversaturated. The latter is a shame; mind you, janky footage is better than none. It’s also notable that, despite being in her sixties at the time of filming, Jones has retained her striking looks remarkably well over the years.

Despite my misgivings with certain aspects in the way in which this Bloodlight and Bami has been presented, it gets by very well on Grace herself. She’s one of those people who could never be less than arresting to watch - and to its credit, this documentary does take a fine stab at painting her in a well-rounded manner.

Runtime: 115 mins

Dir: Sophie Fiennes

Rating: ☆☆☆☆

Where is it showing in Edinburgh and Glasgow?

Click for showtimes:

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