• Grace Jones: Bloodlight And Bami (Umbrella Entertainment) DVD Review

    Released by: Umbrella Entertainment
    Release date: June 6, 2018
    Directed by: Sophie Fiennes
    Cast: Grace Jones, Jean-Paul Goude, Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare
    Year: 2017

    Grace Jones: Bloodlight And Bami - Movie Review:

    Bloodlight and Bami is a documentary about the iconic Grace Jones, who was 69 years young at the time it was filmed. What’s with the title, you ask? According to the distributor, the term “Bloodlight” has to do with the red glow that illuminates an artist in a recording studio, and “Bami” is a Jamaican word that translates roughly to “daily bread,” such as in the Lord’s Prayer sense. The film itself is a mixed bag, an amalgam of the fascinating, the dull, and the (mostly) pleasantly engaging. Director Sophie Fiennes’ budget seems to have allowed her to do little more than point the camera at her subject and hope for the best. And while the result is more watchable than it has a right to be, there’s no NOT noticing that too much screen time is eaten up by random conversation, much of it in Jamaican accents barely (if at all) decipherable to the standard American ear.

    Yet… joy infuses so much of it all. Watching Jones visit with her family and lifelong friends in Jamaica, get jetted and chauffeured from gig to gig, and hang out backstage at various venues around the world is mostly pretty fascinating. The reason for this is, no surprise, Jones herself. Even when the film drags, she displays a charisma that sustains the proceedings. (She’s also, incidentally, not shy about showing off a body that would be amazing on a woman one-third her age.)

    In return for a little tolerance, the film gives the viewer two hours of the company of a warm, funny, talented human being. Jones is also a take-no-shit businesswoman who obviously micromanages her own career, schedules her own appearances, and cuts her own deals, always on her terms (In the film’s funniest scene, she goes off on a bilingual rant at a French television producer, expressing her displeasure at a dance number he’s choreographed for a variety show appearance. “What are these dancers here for? It looks like I’m a pimp in a lesbian brothel!” When he disputes her, she counters loudly: “I’M A VISUAL ARTIST! I KNOW WHAT THINGS LOOK LIKE!”).

    Little attention is paid to Jones’ modeling or acting work, and what mention there is occurs in passing. In fairness, this is probably due to the fact that the film restricts itself to her life at present, and her music is pretty much how she keeps busy these days. Still, American viewers in particular are likely to feel like they’re missing something. Those of a certain age who grew up in this country are likely to know Jones best from her film work, including 1984’s Conan the Destroyer, the Bond outing A View to a Kill (1985), and her star turn in Vamp (1986). And there are also no doubt a few Americans between, say, 45 and 70 years of age who didn’t note Grace’s sharply angled face staring at them from some magazine cover or other more than once during the 1970s and 1980s. (Oh, and anyone who’s ever seen the 1985 black-and-white Playboy photo spread she did with then-boyfriend Dolph Lundgren hasn’t forgotten it, trust me.)

    At the same time, she never really broke out of “cult figure” status as a music performer in the States (although she did hit #1 on the dance chart four times between 1975 and 1993). Those lucky enough to be familiar with her work (and those whose tastes run retro-exotic) will likely enjoy the strong live performances that pepper the film, including “I Need a Man (her first #1 dance hit in the US),” “Warm Leatherette,” “My Jamaican Guy,” “Pull Up to the Bumper,” and “Slave to the Rhythm,” among others. Particularly striking are her renditions of Roxy Music’s "Love is the Drug," (a massive dance club hit in 1985 or thereabouts) and “La Vie En Rose” (yes, the same song Edith Piaf did)

    Whatever the film’s faults, few will deny that it celebrates a truly remarkable performer. And although it’s been a decade since her last collection of new material was released, she continues to tour internationally and turn up now and then in places in dire need of coolness. (Most recently, she dropped by to kick 3½ minutes of ass with Damon Albarn on “Charger,” a standout track on Gorillaz’s 2017 release Humanz.)

    If you find yourself feeling cheated by the film’s lack of depth, you can easily remedy that by curling up with her superb 2015 autobiography, ironically titled I’ll Never Write My Memoirs.

    Grace Jones: Bloodlight And Bami - DVD Review:

    Umbrella has released Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami on standard-definition DVD in the film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1; given that it was shot on video—and much of that video doesn’t look particularly sharp to begin with—this is a fine format in which to view the documentary. Some scenes look better than others, depending on whether they take place indoors or out and what lighting is used. Ultimately, this is a movie about sound and music, however, so the video quality isn’t the most important factor, nor does it detract from Grace Jones as a spectacle.

    The film's soundtrack is placed on the disc in English Dolby Digital 5.1. As mentioned in the review above, some parts of the film are difficult to make out, in part because of the accents, in part because of the way (and where) some scenes were recorded. The DVD would have benefitted from at least having optional English subtitles. Remastered sound, especially for the performance footage, wouldn’t have hurt things either.

    There are no extras, period, and that’s too bad. Still, B&B is a labor of love from the get-go, and sometimes you just have to take what you get.

    Grace Jones: Bloodlight And Bami - The Final Word:

    Grace Jones fans will likely love Bloodlight and Bami despite its minor faults; those who aren’t fans because they aren’t aware of her work should make this a starting point. There are few humans on earth as fascinating, as beautiful, as unique, as captivating as Grace Jones.

    Christopher Workman is a freelance writer, film critic, and co-author of the Tome of Terror horror film review series. Horror Films of the Silent Era and Horror Films of the 1930s are currently available, with Horror Films of the 1940s due out in 2019.

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Darcy Parker's Avatar
      Darcy Parker -
      Charger is an insanely good song, and wouldn’t be anything without Grace Jones’ contributions,