A Film By Beyonce: This year will go down in cinema history for Barbenheimer but 2023 has also been the year of “Tayloncé”. Just as Barbie and Oppenheimer joined forces to rejuvenate cinema, so Taylor Swift and Beyoncé have cemented their status as joint queens of pop this year.
Both singers inspire fanatical devotion, both embarked on stadium tours so huge they warped local economies, and both are closing out 2023 with a movie. Taylor Swift: the Eras Tour became the highest grossing concert movie of all time in October; now comes Queen Bey’s Renaissance movie, doubtless looking to do similar wide-release box office.
A Film By Beyonce, To be clear, there’s no rivalry here: Beyoncé attended Swift’s LA premiere in October; On Thursday night Swift returned the favour at Renaissance’s London premiere.
Renaissance: A Film By Beyonce Review
Where Swift’s movie faithfully replicated the live experience, Renaissance gives us the “making of” as much as the performance. Swift gives us the gliding swan; Beyoncé shows us the legs kicking beneath the waterline as well.
A Film By Beyonce, It’s arguably a braver move: as with her 2019 movie Homecoming, this works well at both stripping back the facade of perfection Beyoncé perpetually exudes, and giving context to the star and the music.
It almost goes without saying that the concert itself is staggeringly accomplished. On the level of sheer professionalism, it’s jaw dropping: the dancing, the graphics, the countless costumes, the props, the lighting – and grounding it all, Beyoncé’s still-flawless voice. Her Renaissance album, which forms the bulk of the show, pays homage to 80s queer culture – ballroom flamboyance, early house, voguing, giant disco balls.
A Film By Beyonce, As such it’s filled with joyous bangers (she has a fair few from her back catalogue to pull in, too). The action constantly, seamlessly switches between different shows from her tour, as if to accentuate just how many costumes they made, and stylistic pointers include everything from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis to lunar vehicles to Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. The slick, sparkly party vibe is infectious and inclusive.
“I’m thankful I’m able to provide a safe space for y’all,” she tells the adoring, glammed-up crowds, to many of whom this appears closer to a religious experience than a mere gig.
A Film By Beyonce, But every few songs, the music pauses and Beyoncé (who directs and narrates the movie) takes us behind the curtain. She’s at pains to show us the sheer amount of work and personnel that go into such a huge undertaking – and how involved she is personally in every stage of the process.
But more intriguing are the moments when we see her off duty. There’s a section on how her eldest daughter Blue became a dancer in the show, for example. It was supposed to be a one-off appearance but, when Blue received negative comments on social media, she was determined to come back and do it again and again till she improved.
A Film By Beyonce, That’s the Knowles spirit, Beyoncé’s dad, Matthew, says. There’s a return visit to her roots in Houston’s Third Ward. The parking lot where she once performed as a teenager is now the landing pad for her helicopter as she flies in to perform at the stadium next to it.
Most affecting is a segment on the late Uncle Johnny, whom fans will know from her rap at the end of Heated – “Uncle Johnny made my dress.” Uncle Johnny was a gay family friend who turned her on to house music, and he really did make her dresses, by hand, when she was starting out with Destiny’s Child (and no mainstream couturiers would deign to dress “curvy Black southern girls” as Beyoncé describes them).
A Film By Beyonce, There are also physical injuries to remind you that she’s human after all: a vocal injury when she was 12 that nearly ruined her career; an onstage knee injury from 20 years ago for which she’s just had surgery (of course, she recovers in record time through sheer force of will). Even her imperfections end up affirming how perfect she is.
Admittedly some of these moments get a little gushy. Beyoncé has much to be thankful for and she spends a little too long doing the thanking, from her parents to her dancers to guests like Diana Ross.
A Film By Beyonce, But there’s always another slab of concert action round the corner to jolt the whole show back to life. For much of the past decade, Beyoncé has been the standard by which others are judged and, at this stage in her career, she’s really got nothing left to prove – but, as the title suggests, rather than slowing down she’s still reinventing herself.