Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami
I was a child in the ‘70s, and didn’t realize then how big Grace Jones was. I’d occasionally see her on TV or on a magazine cover, and her androgynous look and long legs freaked me out. By the time I was 15 and saw her with Arnold Schwarzenegger in Conan the Destroyer, and a year later as a Bond girl in A View to a Kill — she fascinated me. She was both beautiful, and…still scary.
I was looking forward to this documentary, to learn more about this beauty (who still looks stunning at age 70). Instead, we get a meandering mess of a movie that tells us nothing. Documentary filmmaker Sophie Fiennes (sister of actors Joseph and Ralph) instead decided to show us many concert scenes, which were surprisingly dull. It’s kind of like watching baseball on TV, instead of being at the ballpark. There’s a big difference. If you’re sitting in the 15th row, with lazers overhead, looking at her legs and crazy makeup, as she belts out “Pull up to the Bumper” that’s one thing. To watch her on screen, wondering where she is performing, well….we need some context. I do understand that with some documentaries, film critics complain that it merely plays like talking heads reading Wikipedia pages. But when this is a woman who partied at Studio 54, pulled a gun on boyfriend Dolph Lundgren, talked openly about shoving cocaine up her behind during sex…well, I want to hear more about those things. Instead, we see her on the phone threatening people. Sometimes it’s a concert promoter. Another time, it’s the legendary Sly and Robbie. Now, had she thrown a drum cymbal at their heads in the studio (the way J.K. Simmons did in Whiplash), that would’ve been fascinating. Instead, watching her shuck oysters, or talk endlessly with her family back in Jamaica, as they mention the names of people we don’t know…it just got boring. One critic was quoted on Rotten Tomatoes as saying, “Seeing this made me want to see a documentary about Grace Jones.” That’s a funny line, but it’s actually not even accurate. If you showed this documentary to somebody that knew nothing about Grace Jones…it wouldn’t make them want to seek out anything else about her. Now, reading her memoir…that is something that would make you want to see a documentary about her. Watching this will make you want to have nothing to do with learning anything about this interesting pop culture figure.
This documentary doesn’t even bother to explain the definition of the title (“bloodlight” is Jamaican language patois, and “bami” means bread).
Since much of this is devoted to watching Jones perform live, it made me think of something. As someone that loves music, I’ve never enjoyed watching movies that show bands performing live. U2’s film didn’t impress me. The Rolling Stones at the IMAX theatre didn’t interest me. Now, when you make a movie about a singer (Ray Charles, Jim Morrison, Johnny Cash, etc)…those live performances work, because we’re watching actors playing these guys, and they pick moments in concert that are more exciting (Morrison getting drunk and getting arrested on stage, Johnny Cash flipping somebody off, Buddy Holly losing a tooth right before a TV appearance, etc.). But Grace Jones could be singing “Love is the Drug” or “La Vie en Rose” or “Slave to the Rhythm” and I was merely pulling up my cell phone, to see how much time was left in the documentary. During one song I asked my wife what she was thinking of the movie. She told me she was bored to tears.
The documentary never tells us which tour this is, or how much time has passed (I looked it up, and Fiennes spent five years filming all this).
When we see Jones working on a new record (that she’s financing herself), it really makes you want to see all the other aspects going on behind the scene. After various phone calls, we can see she’s frustrated. Why not delve into what all is happening that’s stressing her out so much.
One of the things she mentions in her memoir, was being wooed by a record label that was offering her a million dollars an album for five records. So why does this documentary not tell us how it’s gotten to the point where she’s financing this herself.
This is a woman that hung out with artists like Keith Haring and Andy Warhol. She showed up with Warhol, in the middle of Schwarzenegger’s wedding to Maria Shriver, upsetting him immensely. She regrets turning down the role in Blade Runner, because her boyfriend at the time wasn’t a fan of Ridley Scott (and how great would it have been to see Jones as a replicant?). But just watching a singer exhibit sporadic moments of diva behavior, just isn’t that enthralling.
Other decisions Fiennes make are baffling. Sometimes Jones will walk out of a room, and the camera stays on the scene, showing an empty room. Sometimes the lighting seems a bit off, too. It made me wonder of Fiennes is the little sister that Ralph gave a camera to and said “have fun with it” or is she trying to do something artistic that I just don’t get.
That doesn’t mean the documentary isn’t without a few interesting moments. She talks about her childhood. We see her with a new grandchild. Yet the whole thing is such a meandering mess, it’s not worth the two hours of your time. My wife literally left the room when her mom started poorly singing “His Eye is on the Sparrow.” And frankly, I don’t blame her.
If you want to learn more about Grace Jones, you’re better off reading her book “I’ll Never Write My Memoirs.”
If you’re a hardcore fan of Jones, you should probably catch this. It’s at the Ken Cinema on Adams Avenue, opening Friday.
1 ½ stars out of 5.