TLDR: Renaissance: A Film By Beyoncé is a virtuosic concert film which does justice to the album – the sound, the visuals and the editing is impeccable and takes you into the arena alongside the fans. If you have a pulse, you’re going to wind up lip synching and shimmying in your seat. The documentary elements give you an insight into Beyonce's realm – her personal connections to black queer culture (yes, Uncle Johnny made her dress) and the challenge to make a multi-million-dollar stadium show feel like high art. It is almost three hours but get the big popcorn and buckle up, you’ll enjoy it.
The extended cut/fangirl rant:
Renaissance, the album, is a love letter to Black American music – each song, sample, beat, hook and vocal line riffs off of what has come before to make an album that feels genuinely exciting while showcasing an insider’s knowledge of soul, R&B and disco. In the film, one of the main ways we see this celebration is through plentiful fan footage – detailed shots of people in black and silver DIY couture belting out songs, twerking and line dancing their way through an album that (according to the home-made placards) saved lives. The film is simply gorgeous to look at. The performance scenes are edited superbly - whoever had to match those clips of multiple costumes within the dance choreography sequences deserves a medal. The videography and editing teams have done well to combine a lot of footage and make it feel cohesive – we’ve got the crisp concert footage, the grittier behind-the-scenes and archival footage and the soft glam interview segments and yet we never feel like we’re watching two different movies.
There’s a few things that stand out in the film:
1) Queer culture
Beyonce has always been a part of queer culture, but in Renaissance, the interviews show us why as we hear from her mother Tina about their family friend Uncle Johnny. John Edward Rittenhouse grew up as a gay black man in 1950's Southern America, and Grandma Beyonce taught him how to sew as a mean of protection. “If you can make people look great, they’ll love you” was Grandma Bey’s
advice, and Uncle Johnny’s experience in securing safety through fashion is one echoed by queer people everywhere. In addition to the interview footage with Tina and Beyonce, we see photos of Uncle Johnny and even Beyonce in the last dress he made for her - a floral gown with midriff cut-outs from the late 90s (go watch Homecoming if you need to know how she still fits into this). Cut to the Renaissance tour and we see “Uncle Johnny is proud of you!“ signs and photos of Tina and Johnny
on a night out as the show ends. Uncle Johnny would be thrilled, Renaissance is a black queer fever dream, the props with ballroom stars Kevin JC Prodigy (the “voice” for the Renaissance tour) and Honey Balenciaga taking centre stage. In the documentary footage we see Kevin meeting Beyonce and some snippets of Honey teaching Beyonce’s kids to vogue. There are also stunning extended dance
choreography sequences, with Bey holding back ever-so-slightly (she’s had knee surgery in the months before the tour) we get to see more of the dancers who are key to the whole point of
Renaissance – dance. The ballroom scene isn’t just a musical reference for the album it’s the
launching pad for one of the most inclusive stadium tours created, from the performers and music to the sets featuring the progress Pride flag and gender-neutral bathrooms. Clutch your pearls, bigots, because there’s a lot of Black and queer joy on screen and watching the audience get into the show is genuine highlight. Beyonce has said “you are the visuals” and she wasn’t joking.
2) Beyonce isn’t just a performer, she’s a creator.
If you’ve seen Homecoming you’ll already know this, but Beyonce isn’t only a phenomenal singer and performer, she’s also an artist with a comprehensive vision of what she wants her fans to experience, including the setlist, the visuals, the lighting, the costumes, the choreography, the stage mechanics and venue theming (in Renaissance fans were asked to wear black and silver). Keen observers will note the similarities in Renaissance and Homecoming – even when you’re Beyonce,
some dude in a black t shirt with a job title of “tech” will argue with you and say what you want isn’t possible. We see in Renaissance there’s push back from her collaborators when she explains she needs a wider lens to make her video feed work properly on the massive screens, and again when she asks for a specific type of tracking (“I googled it and they do make it," she says at one point). I get what it’s like being the naysayer (often we’re the ones counting the time and money and are used to
being told “just make what we have on hand work”) but you can see that it’s this relentless pursuit of a vision that leads to innovation – if Bey backs down then we just get jumbotrons. Instead, she says “eventually they realise this bitch will not give up” and we get the Renaissance experience, a stadium tour so complicated they need three stages touring simultaneously in order to bump in and out as they make their way around the world.
3) Beyonce knows her history
Obviously Beyonce knows her musical history (we have all just listened to Renaissance…) but she’s also quite serious about her legacy within music and culture. She calls out “this is my bloodline” with Blue Ivy on stage next to her, she has archivists on staff and also schedules major announcements during Black History month. The film was released on World AIDS day to celebrate Uncle Johnny and I do wonder if some of the push back she gets is from people who are uncomfortable with a young black woman who owns her success and is actively engaging in making history and not waiting until retirement to engage in wider cultural conversations. For Christ’s sake, if Beyonce can’t take herself seriously then there’s a lot of CEOs, politicians and lawyers who can lighten up.
4) She’s managing the narrative
Blue Ivy’s timid dancing was a surprise to fans when she first hit the stage on tour and Beyonce
addresses this, explaining how Blue Ivy has been on a mission to improve after she read negative reviews. We hear from Blue and from Jay-Z about the topic, but no interviews really compete with the footage. We get to watch Blue evolve from an overwhelmed Bambi-legged child to a confident and cheeky dancer, feeling the music and getting a taste of what life must be like as either of her iconic parents. It’s also heartwarming to see the parental side of Beyonce and Jay-Z, even if ensuring
your 11-year-old can entertain a stadium of people isn’t a common family issue.
Admittedly, three hours did feel long (my tailbone was complaining) but I’d go watch this again, just to bask in the concert visuals and feel that energy and positivity again. 2023 has given us the Renaissance: A Film by Beyonce and Barbie, and both have felt like delicious, visually detailed cinematic treats which celebrate feminine energy and queer stories.
Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé now showing at a cinema near you
WATCH THE TRAILER:
LISTEN TO THE MUSIC:
SHOP THE VINYL