Early on in Sophie Fiennes’ documentary Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami, there’s a scene of clamoring fans, all different ages, sexes and races, waiting for the singer, actress, model and fashion icon to sign their photos and vinyl record sleeves.
“Would you do another movie?” asks one fan of Grace Jones, who has appeared in close to two-dozen films and TV shows, including A View to a Kill and Conan the Destroyer in the ’80s and part of the musician-packed cast of Gutterdammerung just last year. “My own,” she answers.
It just took 10 years, off and on, to complete her own. In fact, her book, I’ll Never Write My Memoirs, which came out in late 2015, was “done way after,” said Jones at an onstage Q&A following the world premiere of Bloodlight and Bami at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).
But it was worth taking their time in order to show a side of the now 69-year-old that isn’t always fierce, glamorous, strong and camera-ready. Performances of “Slave to the Rhythm,” “Pull Up to the Bumper,” “Nipple to the Bottle” and what Jones calls “bio songs” like “Williams’ Blood” are more than reminders of her captivating stage presence.
Joining Jones onstage at TIFF, Fiennes said they could provide a narrative thread. “You could structure it through the songs. They were like arias, like ‘Love Is the Drug’ that you return to with an insistence on a certain theme.”
Like the title of the doc suggests — bloodlight is Jamaican slang for red light that glows when an artist is recording and bami is traditional Jamaican cassava flatbread — this is Jones onstage and off, the performance artist onstage in stilettos, corset, masks and hats and drinking champagne in a fur coat in a Paris hotel room; and also crowded around a table in Jamaica with her family, chatting and eating, sharing memories and road-tripping to Spanish Town, where she grew up.
English director Fiennes (2006’s The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema) was ready to take off to Moscow within days or to the studio that same night or to Jamaica for the Jones family reunion. “I had my bag packed ready all the time,” she said.
To which Jones added: “It was a lot of spontaneity, and you have to seize that moment.”
The two met after Fiennes made 2002’s Hoover Street Revival: Life, Death and God in South Central LA, a documentary about Jones’ brother, Bishop Noel Jones.
“It was as if we connected immediately and my brother spoke about her as well a lot,” Grace said. “There was just the magic there; it was meant to be, it was already written. You know what I mean?”
The film — which is hoping to land a distributor during TIFF — continually juxtaposes the confident, self-assured visionary that has made her so captivating all these years with the down-to-earth family-focused mother, daughter, sister, grandmother and lover.
“So, Grace, what do you see in this film that’s different from other representations of you in your career?” asked the moderator for the Q&A.
“Well, the representations of me doesn’t stand next to this, really, because it’s all so completely different,” she said. “There’s images I made sure to control as much as possible. It’s harder now with internet and stuff, but I was very strict on what went out.
“Even some things I wanted to go out, some people didn’t want to go out because they thought the record company is going to have a problem if that goes out, and I’d say, ‘Well, why? I want it out.’ And they would hold back things. So it’s all been a learning experience and feeling confident enough to have these sides that I know I confided and trusted Sophie on camera, like a fly on the wall.”