Sophie Fiennes’ Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami is a snapshot in the life of the iconic model, actress and musician Grace Jones, a person whom I have high my list of coolest people ever to walk on Earth. It’s a pity, then, that I didn’t like Fiennes’ movie more, since — in theory at least — I’m the target audience for it. But Fiennes can’t quite wrangle her subject and is too far removed from Jones as a person and too passive as a filmmaker to really do anything exciting with the film. The result of it all is a shockingly dull and overlong movie about a fascinating person, interspersed with musical performances that raise Bloodlight and Bami a step above your run-of-the-mill documentary.
For me, the music documentary peaked with Jeff Stein’s Who doc The Kids Are Alright (1979), which managed to do little more than accumulate a lot of TV footage and turn it into a treatise on the importance of The Who and rock music in general, while also being entertaining. That Bloodlight and Bami never scales those heights is perhaps an unfair comparison, but I think Fiennes’ more voyeuristic approach does do Jones herself many favors. As a filmmaker, Fiennes follows Jones around as she travels to her hometown in Jamaica, butts heads with French TV execs and tries to get a record recorded. Only passing remarks lend you any context to Jones as a person or to her importance as an artist, while even less is given to Jones’ life in the present.
In theory, this is a perfectly fine approach, but it doesn’t really give you anything to latch onto as a viewer. I’m reluctant to simply have a rundown of Jones’ life and career by a parade of talking heads, but nothing Fiennes is showing us is particularly fascinating. Jones is given a lot of time to speak and interact with her friends and family, but it’s impossible to shake the feeling that Fiennes is simply wandering through Jones’ life. You get a sense of Jones’ strength as a woman who wants to live life on her own terms, but this is something left to piece together, with no real thrust to the movie as a whole and — as a consequence — no true power as a filmmaking.
What makes the film frustrating, however, is that occasionally Fiennes proves herself to a more stylish filmmaker than the bulk of washed-out, low-grade footage (the film looks as if it were shot on an iPhone, which feels both amateurish and head-scratchingly unfortunate) would lead you to believe. Obviously, the real entertainment value lies in the musical performances (even if a lot of this is thanks to Eiko Ishioka’s stage design), but occasionally, Fiennes will intercut music and her more mild-mannered footage in ways that are clever and energizing. It’s enough to make you wish more of the film had this kind of artistry and verve, instead of being bogged down in the kind of minutia that really distracts from the power of Jones herself. Not Rated. Now playing at Grail Moviehouse.