In saying that, every now and then I watch a new film that bowls me over and sits in my mind for days after. Sophie Fiennes’ newest documentary Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami (or Bloodlight) was one of those films.
Bloodlight is Fiennes’ love letter to Jones, a Jamaican singer, songwriter, supermodel and actress who is considered one of the few remaining “original” pop culture icons.
Jones is renowned for her subversive stage performances and her androgynous appearance, and her popularity amongst the LGBQTI community has lead to the affectionate moniker Queen of the Gay Disco.
Fiennes seamlessly mixes staged musical performances with intimate footage. We learn of Jones’ somewhat unhappy childhood at the hands of her abusive and fervently religious step-grandfather Mas-P. Lyrics like “why don’t you be a Jones like your sister?” illuminate Grace’s struggle to be herself and gain her grandfather’s acceptance.
This is not to say that Grace’s family life was wholly unsatisfying. Most of the intimate footage was shot in Jamaica while Jones was visiting her family and hometown. Jones’ admiration for her mother is palpable.
I was lucky enough to interview Fiennes, and she identified Jones’ “very generous” and “sympathetic” nature as being influenced by her Church background.
Fiennes noticeably rebels against the use of traditional documentary filmmaking techniques, such as direct-to-camera interviews or the inclusion of archival footage. Fiennes explained her decision to film fly-on-the-wall style as a means to “be very open to Grace in every moment that I was with her”.
The staged musical performances, designed by the late Oscar winning art director Eiko Ishioka, testify to Jones’ ageless artistic talent. Backlit by vibrant light displays, Jones strides across the stage like a lioness stalking her prey; quietly confident but nonetheless dedicated to performing to the best of her ability.
Fiennes said she was drawn to “the power and the pleasure and the beauty” that is Grace Jones, a woman nearing 70 who continues to embrace the fun that life has to offer.
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