The history of badass icons must include Grace Jones

The history of badass icons must include Grace Jones

“Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami”

seen at True/False Film Festival, March 1, 2018
now playing in UK
in US theaters April 2018
Film’s Facebook page

In short: a must-see

I knew squat about Grace Jones except that she was the performer from the disco age with a shaved head. Yet by the second pulsing, screen-filling concert number in this Irish Film-BBC production, I was ready to leap out of my plastic folding chair and dance.

By then, this cut-above-your-usual-concert film made me fall in love with her as a performer — if not necessarily as a person. “Bloodlight and Bami” immerses us enough in her offstage life to make us see, and admire, how hard she works at being Grace Jones.

Director Sophie Fiennes, who spent 11 years working closely with the artist, does not make an adoring biography. But as one audience member pointed out in the Q&A, Fiennes has made a credible feminist biography of the performer, whose role in queer history is as a good an introduction to queer history as any.

A lot of the film is set in her native Jamaica, where Jones meets with family and cuts some songs. By emphasizing the role that family and its culture has had in shaping who Jones is, we see her as the product of strong women.

And though she charmingly lets her guard down back home — where we get a fair amount, perhaps too much, of the family’s turbulent backstory — even here the fierce Grace Jones rears her head. She’s awaiting bass player Robbie Shakespeare at a recording session on the island, and when he’s a no-show, she tears into him in a phone call demanding his immediate presence. (We also hear, amusingly, the sotto voce pleadings of another musician in the room with Jones during the call: “Don’t piss him off!”)

But these fiery exchanges elicited mostly laughter from the audience — probably because we could see her point. The energy Jones expends in performance, in makeup and costume, in maintaining her image, would destroy weaker folks. She’s nearly 70 and still a badass. You wouldn’t necessarily want her as your mom, but I’d love her as my auntie.

As editor of her own film, Fiennes has done an incredible sound job on “Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami,” a mastery she displays from the opening credits, when two different concert performances of the same song are woven together seamlessly.

There are a handful of full-length performances from the film’s centerpiece concert. Creative consultant Oisin Byrne, on hand at True/False for the US debut, said that concert was staged just for the documentary in Dublin and shot on 16mm film in an attempt to capture Grace at her most expansive.

Dig deeper

This 2015 Pitchfork essay does a good job framing Jones in the history of queer identity and culture.

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