Documentaries: Grace Jones: Bloodlight And Bami (2018) - Reviewed

In the beginning there was nothing, and from nothing came Chaos, the primordial void. It was this primordial void that gave birth to Gaia (the Earth), Tartarus (the underworld), Eros (love), and all the gods of Greek Mythology. Chaos also created humanity, as we are the children of the Titan Prometheus. According to the Greeks, Chaos is the beginning, the genesis, ground zero, creation itself, and the maker of gods.

I could not help but think of this when watching Sophie Fiennes’ latest documentary Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami. A mix of concert and observational footage, the film feels more like the anthropological study of a goddess than a film. With the use of the handheld cinematography of Remko Schnorr, the audience plays fly-on-the-wall to Grace Jones’ life between performances, as she takes a trip back to her childhood home in Jamaica.

Due to Fiennes’ choice of this hands-off documentary style, it helps to have some previous knowledge of Grace Jones’ life in order to really get the full impact of the film. Much of Jones’ music and character performances are highly personal, drawing directly from events in her life. Specifically, she mentions the trauma she suffered at the hands of her grandmother’s husband, Master Patrick, or as Grace and her siblings refer to as “Mas P”. If you are not that familiar with Grace Jones, you are likely to miss some of the nuances of this film. However, a quick read through her Wikipedia page would likely cure most of this for any novice on the icon.

Although these “Mas P” references are the not the only focus of the film, I found them to be the most compelling. I myself am a survivor of domestic violence, and as such, the world has a way of making you feel like the trauma you suffered means you are somehow permanently damaged. Hollywood films are littered with countless female characters, forever driven to madness through events involving abuse. Leaving us to believe this kind of trauma delivers the kind of damage that you can never undo. However, like in Greek Mythology, the reality is that all greatness is born from chaos, and Grace Jones is living proof of how the trauma one survives can be turned into godliness.

During a recent discussion on the subject, a friend of mine said to me that you can grow and move on from these traumatic events or you can “let them turn you into a super villain”. In either scenario, the choice is always yours. By not spoon-feeding the audience with narration or commentary, Sophie Fiennes exposes us to how Grace Jones was able to weave her own chaos into a form of human divinity, incorporating her trauma into her performance art. I feel it is this unspoken agreement between filmmaker and viewer on this type of cinematic osmosis, that gives this film its power, and grants Grace Jones the ability to drive the direction of her own story.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Every man is a divinity in disguise, a god playing the fool.” What Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami shows us, is that the singer, songwriter, supermodel, record producer, and actress is also a daughter, a sister, a mother, a grandmother, and a survivor. Director Sophie Fiennes’ has given us the key to Grace Jones’ private world, revealing that like most of us, she is a human being with humble beginnings. A human being who chose to step out, grab hold of the chaos, and channel it into her inner modern day goddess. 

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-Dawn Stronski