Director: Sophie Fiennes
Let’s face it nobody wants a Grace Jones film to be a ‘standard’ rock biography, much in the same way that nobody wants a ‘standard’ rock biography of Laurie Anderson or Patti Smith. You expect some degree of artiness or avant gardism, or it just wouldn’t be ‘them’.
But at the same time what you don’t really want — trust me on this — is what you get here: a cinema verité approach where you spend the first twenty minutes waiting in vain for some kind of context, backstory, explanation — anything — and the next hour-and-a-half (it’s a long old film) resigned to the fact that you’re not going to get any, just enjoying the great moments the film does occasionally throw up, and thinking, ‘God, what a lost opportunity this is.’ And, ‘How can anybody make a film about Grace Jones — Grace Jones! — that is so BORING?’
Honestly, I wanted to throw things at the screen. Fifteen minutes of Grace and family sitting around a dinner table having an impenetrable conversation? You got it? Context? Fuck you. I know a fair bit about her, so at least I knew that this guy ‘Sly’ she refers to is Sly Dunbar. Ditto ‘Robbie’. But the film never bothers to say. I know why Grace is in in Jamaica; I’m aware of the circumstances surrounding the recording of the ‘Hurricane’ album, and I’m aware of the significance of the lyrics to ‘Williams Blood’. Lucky me, because the film never bothers to say.
Excitingly, we get to see Sly and Robbie play during the recording of ‘Hurricane’, and it’s one of those rare ‘whoah’ moments I’m talking about. Yet in many ways it’s the very fact that these great scenes exist that make the rest of it so frustrating. A little montage of Grace recording ‘This is the Life’, playing it live and then singing it as she’s cooking is so ace you’re still mourning what-might-have-been just as you’re plunged into yet another long conversation conducted entirely in French. I’m not even kidding, it’s eye-roll city throughout.
Which means the film’s only saving ‘grace’ is the concert footage and sundry other musical moments. Occasionally her physically is a bit off, as is her voice, but these scenes still make for a wonderful visual experience and fortunately there’s quite a lot of them. Had director Sophie Fiennes (sister of the other Fiennes) stuck to music, and edited out the vast swathes of mumbled conversation, taxi rides, meals, people sitting on sofas, shots of foggy mornings etc., then I’ve no doubt I’d be shouting the praises of this film from the rooftops. As it is, I advise extreme caution and another screen to keep you entertained between songs.
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