It was meant to be a crowning moment of Grace Jones’s career. Having broken up with her partner and visual collaborator Jean-Paul Goude, Jones decided she’d direct the video for 1986’s ‘I’m Not Perfect (But I’m Perfect For You)’ herself. Yet what followed reveals both the shocking ways professional women are undermined and how accusations of paranoia can quickly spiral out of control…
I’d gotten the idea for ‘I’m Not Perfect (But I’m Perfect For You)’ while Mick Jagger and I were playing off each other, which was something we did when we met. Our flirting was often done through games and wordplay, and frolicking about like brother and sister behind our parents’ backs. I had been filming ‘Conan the Destroyer’ in Mexico, and The Rolling Stones were there making a video.
Mick and I started talking about the idea of being in a relationship when you are famous, and having to be as perfect for your partner as you are as a performer. We had an idea for a song. He said, ‘You do one line, I’ll do one line.’ In the end, we only got two lines: I’m not perfect, but I’m perfect for you. That’s as far as we got! I said, ‘I’ll take it on and finish it off.’ He never asked for credit or anything. I completed it by imagining what me and Mick would have done.
Because the track was so personal, I decided I would direct the video for the song, having learned so much, especially from Jean-Paul [Goude]. It was a retort, in a way, to not being able to live up to the image that my lover had literally created for me, so it seemed important that I be in control of the video, rather than act as the subject. It ended up being completely out of my control.
‘If I were a man, I wouldn’t have been considered a bitch’
I had to struggle to get respect from the Capitol people [Jones’s record company at the time]. I was in every shot, so I would always have my make-up touched up in a room away from the studio. And when I came back they would be shooting something, or having the cast change clothes. I would say, ‘What’s going on? I am the director. I know what I am doing.’ I got very paranoid.
I had to be a bitch to maintain any kind of authority. Well, if I were a man, I wouldn’t have been considered a bitch. If I were a man, I would simply have been in charge, however aggressive and demanding I was. I wouldn’t have had other people running about filming things behind my back. A man putting his foot down is in control. It’s strong. A woman putting her foot down is out of control. She’s weak.
I had asked for two weeks to do the whole thing, and they chopped the production down first to three days and then two. It was so much pressure. After I finished, I vowed that I would never direct anything again. Instead of having a week in which to edit, I had two days. I was never really given a chance. They treated me as though I was a temperamental, unstable mess, and were so impatient and intolerant it did start to seem to those close to me that I was genuinely going mad.
‘I was being talked to like I was a silly pop singer’
Grace Jones © Andrea Klarin
There was a plot to put me away in a facility, because people thought I was on the edge of insanity. There was an actual conspiracy to have me sectioned. It wasn’t in my head, although, naturally, it was made to seem as though it was. I was being worn down. The circumstances were making me crazy, not mad. I was simply frustrated to such an extent about how the video was going, people thought I was in mental trouble.
My sister, my mom, my dad, Capitol Records – a weird alliance, whose members cared about me from different corners – could easily have convinced people that I was losing touch with reality. My family felt I was being paranoid, but I wasn’t going mad. In truth, I was deeply upset that Capitol was interfering with my vision. I was not being a prima donna: I was just trying to concentrate on a technically difficult task while I was being talked to like I was a silly pop singer who’d gotten carried away with her own ego.
I was female, and they decided that I was rock ’n’ roll insane. Had I been a man, they would have considered that I was merely retaining control, or professionally fretting about the details. Once they start treating you as though you are losing your grip, it becomes kind of true – in reacting to accusations that you are paranoid and incapable of acting responsibly, you end up seeming to confirm that you are paranoid and reckless. They wore me down. They sabotaged me.
‘It’s the same old caveman shit’
Grace Jones © Adrian Boot
You can tell why there are so few female film directors. It’s the same with any job that society has decided can only be done by a man. They find ways to undermine and undervalue a woman doing that job. And the fact that you end up saying ‘they’ makes you sound paranoid. But there is no doubt that a particular job is usually for the boys. If a woman tries to do it, she is treated as though she is doing something wrong, even perverse.
What are the chances of a female president being elected? The men-only corporate reaction is: What about the tampons? Will she bleed everywhere? What if she gets pregnant? What if she is going through the menopause? What if she’s been through the menopause and is therefore old and used-up? It’s the same old caveman shit, a power thing. It’s why I want to fuck every man in the ass at least once. Every guy needs to be penetrated at least once.
‘I’ll Never Write My Memoirs’ by Grace Jones is published by Simon and Schuster and is available from Waterstones.