'RENAISSANCE: A FILM BY BEYONCÉ' Finds Glamour in the Nitty-Gritty

Directed by Beyoncé Knowles-Carter

Photo: Carlijn Jacobs

BY Rachel HoPublished Dec 8, 2023

When Beyoncé dropped her disco-infused album RENAISSANCE last year, the Beyhive pleaded with their Queen for the visuals. Since 2006's B'Day, each of Beyoncé's records have been accompanied by some video component, whether a visual album, producing music videos for each song on the record or a short-form documentary offering fans a glimpse at how the sausage is made. But when it came to RENAISSANCE, Beyoncé followed her own mute challenge — at least until it was announced in September that the RENAISSANCE World Tour would be gracing cinemas.

Rather than a silly ol' pedestrian visual album, Beyoncé documented every step and stop of the tour, resulting in RENAISSANCE: A FILM BY BEYONCÉ, the first theatrical release by the singer. Where previous documentary efforts like Year of 4 stripped back Beyoncé's artistic process and Homecoming considered her cultural influences, RENAISSANCE seeks to give credit to the unsung heroes of touring. 

Interspersed between concert footage across the tour's 56 shows, we're given an insight into the grand scope of the tour's production, from the incredible screen that illuminates and towers over the seats to the massive two-piece stage (which was copied in triplicate to accommodate take down and set up requirements; that is, as one stage is being taken down in a city, a second is being set up in another city, and the other in transit to a third city). We're also shown the finer details — Beyoncé's penchant for light and the specificity required from each crew member, who she kitted out in silver jumpsuits. 

Alongside the impressive production value, the costume design aids tremendously in bringing the tour to cinematic life. The many sartorial changes from set to set and show to show made the rounds on social media during the tour and created a fresh show for each audience. It also lends the film a stunning visual dynamic thanks to an incredible set of editors. Timing each change with beat drops and dance moves while also choosing to contrast the colours and textures of the wardrobe not only offers an aesthetically pleasing documentary but also enhances the experience of moviegoers as if seated for an energetically paced concert.

Across the film, Beyoncé weaves in personal touches with the technical achievements. When discussing the work put into creating each leotard and gown, time is given to the famed Uncle Johnny and the prom dress he designed for Beyoncé. Through interviews with Beyoncé and her mother, Tina, we're made privy to how Uncle Johnny's musical influence imparted onto Beyoncé an appreciation for Black queer culture, particularly with the different ballrooms of the '70s and '80s, a touch point clearly felt throughout RENAISSANCE the film and RENAISSANCE the record. 

Furthering the personal essay of the documentary, Beyoncé's eldest daughter, Blue Ivy Carter, features when it's time to showcase the choreography and Beyoncé's dance team. For the first time, we hear Blue share her thoughts about joining her mom on stage and the negative comments she received on social media after the fact. We also hear Beyoncé's hesitation in giving her daughter that opportunity, with the singer having an awareness that while she was around the same age as Blue when she first started, Blue's journey would be incredibly different to Beyoncé's, free from any real struggle to break through.

Having these moments throughout the film creates a more fulsome picture of the album and the tour — they also serve as reminders of the fact that Beyoncé remains one of the most tightly controlled brands in entertainment. There are some truly touching behind-the-scenes moments in RENAISSANCE, but many scenes and shots read entirely as "for the camera." I sympathize with Beyoncé in that she's damned if she does and damned if she doesn't; yet, there's an alternative cut where RENAISSANCE the movie is purely focused on the concerts and the work put into making it that rings entirely authentic. 

I count myself among those who have been riding with Beyoncé since 1997, when Destiny's Child debuted on the Men in Black soundtrack and Wyclef Jean remixed "No, No, No," and I can't help but feel a sense of bittersweet finality to RENAISSANCE, however ironically. The show has many callbacks to earlier points in her career, and she mentions that she's looking to be a bit more settled after the tour, so it's entirely possible we won't hear from Beyoncé for a few years. (Although my 10-year-old heart holds out for that DC5 announcement.)

And if that is the case, RENAISSANCE delivers a "love you deep" thank you to those who got her to that point and a reminder of the legacy she has built over the last 25-plus years. After all these years, Beyoncé has not only stadiums and arenas jumpin', but cinemas as well. 
(Cineplex Pictures)

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