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If ever there was a figure that’s ripe for a rock documentary in 2017, it’s Grace Jones. The strikingly androgynous Jones has always remained a deeply elusive figure, a star that sits at the exact meeting point between funk and disco — a post punk super model who might as well have been beamed down from space. Jones is precisely a perfect figure for a rock doc, because if she tries either of the formulas, she’s guaranteed success. We could get a deeply personal look at how her carefully sculpted image came to be, a la No Direction Home, Shut Up and Play the Hits or Mistaken for Strangers, or she could have gone the more interesting route that contributes more to the myth, the route that Nick Cave took on his fascinating and occasionally infuriating 20,000 Days on Earth. Sophie Fiennes’ film Bloodlight and Bami opts for the former option. An early scene shows Jones meeting devotees after a concert in New York, and as she shakes the flesh and signs records, a fan tells her he’s been waiting over 25 years to meet her. This is an exceptionally poor way to open the documentary, because the two hours or so that follow bequeath a work that’s deeply, deeply half-arsed, both insulting to anyone with a passing interest in Jones and the star herself.
There’s not really any central hook to Bloodlight and Bami, no talking head interviews, no voice-over narration and seemingly no point. Loosely, we follow home video footage of Jones taking her niece to Jamaica for the first time. While the landscape does look lovely in these photos, home-shot footage and the natural beauty can only substitute for any actual content for so long. We meet members of Ms. Jones’ extended family, but there’s no depth to any of this, it feels as though you’ve walked in on a family reunion. Not in a voyeuristic way, as in you feel uncomfortable in what you overhear, just in a plan boring way, because there’s literally no reason you should care about any of these people. At least, the film offers no reason.
The documentary’s highlights are when Jones exerts her Jones-ness. There’s a standout sequence where she dresses down a French director for his music video concept-which Jones likens to that of a whorehouse. “Sometimes, you just have to be a bitch” she says to the camera, as the obliterated director waddles away. This formidable bitchiness is wonderfully displayed in a later scene where she dresses down Robbie Shakespeare, the renowned session bassist, for missing studio time. Just when things are getting too drawn out, Fiennes has the good sense to throw in a tune, in this case selections from Jones’ stint in the Olympia last year. These clips are truly sensational — totally unique funk/punk fusions beamed directly from the mothership that we mortals should be grateful to behold. Sadly, these parts don’t come even close to making up for a deeply uneven whole.
Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami is in cinemas now.