Renaissance: A Film By Beyoncé Review

Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé
Behind the scenes of Beyoncé’s Renaissance world tour, from the opening in Stockholm to the climax in Kansas. She literally runs the world (girls).

by Ian Freer |
Published on

Renaissance: A Film By Beyoncé is indubitably Un Film De Beyoncé Knowles-Carter. As in control of her work as any European auteur — her name-checks in the end credits run into double figures — the writer-director-producer-performer seeks to document her most recent tour, traversing 56 dates across 39 cities playing to 2.7 million people (most of them blinged up to the nines, on this evidence). But rather than a straightforward in-concert flick, Knowles-Carter takes the more ambitious route of mashing up the performance with behind-the-scenes footage and interview material with the intention of laying bare her process. Whether it’s on stage or backstage, she appears deeply creative, incredibly self-possessed and ridiculously impressive but somehow still human.

Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé

While Renaissance contains pretty much all the tropes of the rockumentary genre — time-lapse footage of the stage being constructed, the rush of fans as the gates open, tour bus shaky-cam, the let’s-all-hold-hands prayer before the performance — Carter-Knowles introduces dynamic licks to the form. Rather than just filming the show at one venue, she flits between different shows, seamless cutting giving Beyoncé startling costume changes mid-song. She also doesn’t hold back on production dramas — an on-stage power cut means Beyoncé decides to do an impromptu outfit-switch to style it out — but more tellingly she captures the exhaustion she feels trying to realise her vision; we see her argue (with men) over lighting, camera tracks and lenses. Unsurprisingly, she wins every debate.

Don’t forget the massive splayed legs for entrances and exits. Renaissance is, after all, about rebirth.

Early doors, Beyoncé tells the audience the show is a “safe space” from “all the shit we’ve been through” (she means Covid, not Secret Invasion) and it’s truly spectacular. The journey begins with the singer being constructed like Maria the robot from Metropolis and ends with her atop a sparkling disco horse before flying around the stadium on wires. In-between, she emerges from a studded clamshell à la Botticelli’s The Birth Of Venus (invoking fears of Derek Smalls stuck in a pod), rides a silver lunar Humvee and swings around poles topped with humungous glitter balls. And don’t forget the massive splayed legs for entrances and exits. Renaissance is, after all, about rebirth.

Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé

The glitter balls are signposts to the musical direction of the show. As a record, Renaissance is a love letter to the disco, house and Black ballroom culture of the ’80s, all wrapped up in songs by turns saucy and spiritual, about self-acceptance, escape, (female/Black) power and pleasure. On stage this translates to one big immersive, inclusive party. Band Silver Horse, a tight-ass galactic funk unit wrapped in Bacofoil, deliver infectious rhythms, the imaginative choreography (take a bow, Fatima Robinson and Chris Grant) is super-sharp, and the whole thing is infused with infectious joy.

In-between numbers, there are interesting if off-topic diversions, from a trip back to Beyoncé’s hometown Houston (the car park she used to perform in is now the landing site for her helicopter) to a visit to her house in Cannes and a touching tribute to ‘Uncle Johnny’, the late family friend who designed all the early Destiny’s Child outfits. She also illuminates her decision to let daughter Blue Ivy perform on stage — during a set-list discussion, mother tells daughter, “I respect your opinions but just pipe down” — and the 11-year-old’s battle to overcome subsequent trolling. All the while, Jay-Z stays mostly in the background.

Threaded throughout is a rare but not particularly revealing interview, with Beyoncé considering the nature of time, motherhood versus pop superstardom and longevity (“I’m thankful I’m still here at fucking 42”). Perhaps more surprising are moments of lightness that somehow only enhance her Untouchable Queen aura. At one point, she teases the crowd with, “Oh, BeyHive,” in a pretty decent Austin Powers impression. It seems you can take the girl out of Goldmember

Renaissance: A Film By Beyoncé achieves total Beyhem, a riot of colour, spectacle, inventive staging, stunning vocals and gorgeous grooves. As a self-portrait, it might not delve as deep as you’d like, but it offers a thrilling lesson in what it takes to be a pop icon.
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