Filmed over a number of years by documentarist and chronicler of artists at work, Sophie Fiennes, this up close portrait of Grace Jones takes a free-wheeling look at this free-est of spirits.
There are no timelines or helpful biography, no talking heads (nor heads with cars driving out of them), nor explanations. Fiennes and her camera seem to pop up at intimate moments, whenever Grace has allowed her startling access – on a family holiday back to Jamaica, backstage at a Paris TV show, or in a trailer at a festival, or into a hotel room while she parades naked in front of a mirror.
I can’t say the approach – nor the photography – is entirely successful, much as I admire Fiennes’ bold editing approach. I’m a Grace fan, so I do know quite a lot about her already, but if I didn’t, I’d be left frustrated by the ellipsis. However, it’s well worth sticking with for the cumulative power of the portrait, which should certainly inspire many viewers to find out more, particularly as the performances filmed here capture all the energy and artistic élan of Grace at her live best.
You get the colours, the Philip Treacy hats, the staging and costume design concepts (by the late Eiko Isioka) and the lights, as well as becoming slave to the her rhythms with great renditions of her hits, such as Love Is The Drug, Pull Up to the Bumper and Warm Leatherette.
I think much of it was shot while Grace was recording her superb 2008 comeback album Hurricane, working with producers Sly and Robbie, with whom we see her argue then collaborate beautifully, finding a hot Jamaican groove.
Of course, she seems to spend plenty of time arguing – even opening oysters becomes a muscular tussle – but, as she says after bawling out a typically glib French TV producer whose tacky production of La Vie en Rose she is rightly offended by: “We’re visual artists, we know what things mean.”
And that’s what this film does perhaps more than anything: establish Grace as a singular artist whose vision informs her life and her lifestyle, her attitude and her physique, her diet and her temper. It’s good to see just how many fools she has to deal with and how she has to bat them away and shut the idiots down. But then I’ve always felt her smacking Russell Harty live on TV was brilliant and I wish she’d done him in more.
And yet there are tender moments with her family and her son Paolo, particularly when she fills him in on her own childhood and the beatings of a zealot step-father, on whom she pins much of her anger and defiant persona. But you wouldn’t want a diva to be any other way, and Grace is clearly someone who’s worked on everything, on her look, her physicality, her attitude, her approach, and has had to, and still does, have to look after herself, because only she knows what she wants and how best to do it.
The results are glorious, a statue and a monument, to nothing other than herself and the self.