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Concert Film Trilogy—Part Three: Saving the Beyst for Last, "Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé"

By Elizabeth Gracen:



The end of any year is cram-packed with moviegoing opportunities as Hollywood rolls out critical darlings and glossy filmic creations released just in time to entice Motion Picture Academy members to look their way for awards recognition. For a film lover, it's a terrific way to end the year with so many movies on steaming platforms and, even better, the big screen.


If you’ve read either of my other articles in the Concert Film Trilogy featuring Taylor Swift’s The Eras Tour or Jonathan Demme's and the Talking Heads' concert film masterpiece Stop Making Sense, you’d know that I am a lone wolf matinee-movie junkie who relishes the “me time” of a good film and a giant bucket of popcorn. It is the quickest reality escape that I can think of to reboot my brain and delight my belly. With just a tap of my AMC app and a five-minute drive to the local cinema, I have my pick of theaters—my favorite being the Dolby Cinema with its widescreen, amazing Dolby Atmos sound and plush recliners. If I plan it just right, I usually have the front section of the theatre all to myself in the middle of Row C for that private screening/perfect movie-junkie fix. 



Saving the best for last, it’s time for Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé. The only film I’ve screened twice on the big screen this year, it was great fun to watch it again with my eighteen-year-old daughter—a die-hard Beyoncé fan. I remember the days when I first introduced her to the glories of Queen Bey in 2011 with the music video “Run the World (Girls).” At the time, I got some flack from one of my best friends because he thought the music video was too sexualized to show a 6 year-old, but I couldn’t resist unveiling the female empowerment message and the kick-ass energy of a true diva. Needless to say, it made an impact that stayed with her. So, no regrets. 


It’s always interesting to screen a big, complex film for the second time. That fizzy newness fades just enough to visually dive deeper into the mechanics of how a film is put together. With Renaissance, this concept takes on a whole new meaning, as Beyoncé (the director, producer, and star of both the tour and the film) allows us behind the curtain to see the bones, the blood, and the heart and soul of what it takes to mount a production of this magnitude. 


Note: Aside from the official trailer, there are no available clips from the film. All embedded videos have been selected from the plethora of fan footage from the tour found on YouTube.



Every aspect of this documentary/concert film is designed to showcase the sheer power of the artist, her work ethic, and her visionary skills. Calculated to wow and delight us with the expected spectacle of her showmanship, Beyoncé is not satisfied with reminding us of what Rolling Stone magazine has deemed one of the greatest vocalists of all time. For this film, she has set her sights higher. The arduous four-year prep for the worldwide concert tour that celebrates her critically acclaimed 2022 Renaissance album has been carefully considered to unveil the inner-workings of the production and a brief insight into the personal life of the star, as well as the struggles with crew and family—a sign of a savvy filmmaker with an impressive film résumé to prove it. If you didn’t already know it, just let Beyoncé tell you herself:


"I feel like, being a Black woman, the way people communicate with me is different. . . . Everything is a fight. It’s almost like a battle against [your] will. . . . Eventually, they realize, 'This bitch will not give up!' " Beyoncé, Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé

The dazzling edit flashes showcase the tour set construction, backstage mechanics, ecstatic crowd shots from all over the world (primarily focusing on her strong and beautiful LGBTQ+ fanbase), and the powerhouse performance by musicians, dancers, and the diva herself. The only true competition for her unbelievable vocals is her awe-inspiring wardrobe. 


Photo by: By Raph_PH - BeyonceSpurs010623

With over 140 “looks” from high-fashion and lesser-known designers, the variety of fashionable visual candy allows us to gorge on the creations from the likes of Fendi, Versace, Marc Jacobs, Pucci, Gucci, Jimmy Choo, Feben, Maximilian Davis for Ferragamo, Olivier Rousteing for Balmain, Ibrahim Kamara for Off-White, LaQuan Smith, and Ivy Park—the pièce de résistance arriving toward the end of the show when Bey pays homage to her Beyhive by dawning a custom Mugler-designed bee costume as she sings “America Has a Problem,” joined by the one and only Kendrick Lamar.



Despite the glamour and glitz of a breathtaking production, the documented intricacies of a massive concert extravaganza never overshadow the Queen’s vocal prowess. With a 35-song setlist that begins with the classically toned down "Dangerously in Love 2" and “Flaws and All,” the show shifts gears and expands with eye-popping visuals and full-stage disco-ball shine, ramping up the energy for the Renaissance album hits “I’m that Girl,” “Cozy,” “Alien Superstar,” “Cuff It,” “Energy,” “Break My Soul,” "Plastic off the Sofa,” “Virgo’s Groove,” “Church Girl,” “Thique,” “All Up in Your Mind,” and “Pure / Honey.” She also revisits familiar hits such as “Formation,” “Diva,” “Run the World (Girls),” “Crazy in Love,” “Drunk in Love,” and many more. 


For those not familiar with Beyoncé’s personal life, we get an up close introduction to her eleven-year-old daughter, Blue Ivy, who accompanied the star for part of the world tour. We’re allowed in to witness Blue Ivy’s desire to perform on stage, her mother’s initial resistance, and Beyoncé's eventual decision to let her daughter perform in front of crowds sometimes numbering 70,000 people. It is a short dramatic arc on film for what was a monumental growth spurt for the young girl, her wings unfurling with each performance as her confidence grows, her skills as a performer finding sure footing alongside her mother as she sings “My Power." It’s girl power on the road to complete female empowerment. 



With a run time of 2 hours and 48 minutes, we don’t miss a thing as Beyoncé struts the runway like a beast, making the similar power strut by Taylor Swift in her film look like child’s play. Don’t get me wrong, they are both fierce and formidable, but Bey leans in to the role, throwing a sly look to the camera like the ballroom queens she honors.



One of the most exciting aspects of the Renaissance album and film centers around the influence of her late Uncle Johnny. Originally published on her website: 

"He was my godmother and the first person to expose me to a lot of the music and culture that serve as inspiration for this album. Thank you to all of the pioneers who originate culture, to all of the fallen angels whose contributions have gone unrecognized for far too long. This is a celebration for you.” —republished at ew.com

Once the mechanical fans begin, her sparkling bodysuit wrapped with black hands, the crowd goes wild, singing every word, celebrating the influence of not only her late gay uncle, but all the brave gay men who created the ballroom culture and creatively flourished in their originality and defiance against the odds and the dreadful disease that took so many of them from this world.



There are many tributes sprinkled throughout the concert, with musical references to Black and queer culture, Chicago house, funk and soul, gospel, Madonna, Britney Spears, Donna Summer, and a special appearance by icon Diana Ross. Beyoncé leaves no stone unturned in her gratitude to the music that has influenced her life and to the crew, dancers, and musicians who bring her vision to fruition, to her family, her roots, and her undeniable drive for excellence.

Photo by: By Raph_PH - BeyonceSpurs010623

Thus far, the film has received critical acclaim and grossed over $42 million dollars worldwide, the tour grossed over $579 million worldwide, with 2.8 million fans attending across 56 dates in 39 cities, bringing her empire net worth to $540 million and growing.


I look over at my kid for the umpteenth time during the film—watching her sing along to every song—my own little bee, admiring the fiercest of role models. Music, a matinee, popcorn, my happy kid . . . it's a good afternoon indeed.


By the time Beyoncé flies over the crowd, fashionably astride a life-size mirrored stallion, the audience (always in the palm of her hand) can do nothing but admire the star.


There is no doubt: Beyoncé runs the world, and we are more than happy that she does.


Long live the Queen. 


Photo by: By Raph_PH - BeyonceSpurs010623

 

Elizabeth Gracen is the owner of Flapper Press & Flapper Films.

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