Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
GRACE JONES: BLOODLIGHT AND BAMI
We should all be so lucky to have a third of the confidence, glamour, panache and artistic integrity Grace Jones has in her pinky finger. She’s a magnetic multi-hyphenate, model-actress-singer-icon, adored worldwide for her outrageous, commanding presence, haute couture style and uncompromising attitude. Director Sophie Fiennes captures the person behind the famous persona in GRACE JONES: BLOODLIGHT AND BAMI. Similar to music documentaries before it, films like MADONNA’S TRUTH OR DARE and NEIL YOUNG JOURNEYS, this one goes into some fascinating places, without an ounce of pretention or spin. This stinging sensation is one for casual and super fans alike.
The “Bloodlight” and “Bami” in the title refer to Jones’ recording process and her daily life, respectively. Fiennes balances slice-of-life vignettes with captivating concert performances as the superstar struts against the colorfully backlit stage, clad in a simple black outfit and Philip Treacy headpiece. Jones’ concerts are avant-garde pop art a la STOP MAKING SENSE, and these segments are slick and polished. The concert photography is some of the most elegant, electric and exhilarating since MADONNA’S TRUTH OR DARE. It will make you scour the internet for tour dates.
That said, it’s during the recording process of her latest album where we get to know the real her. During an intimate family fish dinner in Jamaica, the family gathers around the table telling family tales that influence her songs (“Williams’ Blood”). It illustrates that she’s an independent, visionary force of nature who puts all of herself out there to her fans. And though it may not seem like it, behind that bad-ass confidence and diva swagger lies a vulnerable, human soul.
Audiences are able to glean insight into her role as a disco legend and diva, but more so, her backstage roles as lover, daughter, sister, mother, grandmother. She speaks candidly about her father’s death and how she channeled it into beautiful art. We see her with her granddaughter – even gets a tiny smile out of her. Plus, it’s also fun to see Jones lean into life’s little spontaneous hilarities in only a way she can do. When opening a stubborn mussel, she wishes her “p*ssy was this tight.” She laments New York City’s energy dying down at a shockingly early hour. You know she has seen some good stuff in the wee hours of the morning, so you feel empathy for her crushing disappointment.
It’s astounding that anyone still tries to mess with Jones, given the respect she’s earned by now, but here we are. Someone’s always going to try to pull a fast one on you no matter who you are. Jones doesn’t worry about sugar-coating situations where she’s had to deal with male colleagues in a self-assured, forceful manner – like when she gives Robbie, a band member who’s slacking off on her dime, a tongue-lashing, or when she gets in a heated argument with Michael about a hotel room. During rehearsals for a French talk show, she’s forced to stand up for her creative vision after the male director attempts to sex up her “La Vie En Rose” number, placing her in the middle of lingerie-clad female dancers. She also tells her side of the infamous flare up between her and British talk show host Russell Harty, and how the media, including the host himself, slanted the situation to their benefit. Including pivotal scenes like this serves as social commentary and a valuable lesson on being an assertive woman in the music business. “Sometimes you have to be a high flyin’ bitch,” Jones states, following the statement with her trademark laugh.
Jones has been called androgynous in the press for decades. What’s funny is I’ve never seen her as such, though I got that her severe look was part of her subversive statement. Fiennes reinforces Jones as a fearless, fierce, feminist force. She might have an intimidating rage burning inside her, one typically found in dominant male energy (behavior she says she learned from her father), but she is all lady. As she defiantly declares in the film’s closing credits song, “I’m a hurricane!”
Her final wish is a universal one: “When I die, I wanna die happy, holding somebody’s hand. Even if it’s the hand of a ghost that I love.” However, what makes her uniquely Grace Jones is her clarification, “Timothy Leary can come hold my hand while I’m dying.”
BLOODLIGHT AND BAMI opens in New York on April 13, Los Angeles on April 20 and with a nationwide release to follow.