Music in the summer of 2023 was defined by two of the biggest stars in the industry setting off on simultaneous music tours that resulted in tour films taking over the box office this autumn.
“Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé” is the fifth directing credit for the 42-year-old multi-Grammy winning megastar, Beyoncé, cementing her as the most creatively prolific artist of our time. Known for her perfectionism and unrelenting work ethic, she has created a film that is so much more than a stage-to-screen copy and will undoubtedly set the bar for all future tour films.
The film, narrated by Beyoncé herself, is fascinated with the passing of time, and like many directors this year, she is taking this time to reflect upon her career. She is intent on showing the full extent of the work that goes into building a show of this scale, sharing early mock-ups for stage design concepts, as well as the process of cutting and refining the setlist. Her control over the production is staggering; she is clearly involved in every detail. In one moment, we see someone tell her the type of camera lens she wants doesn’t exist; this is immediately rebuffed by the star who has already found one online. It is clear that even decades into her career, she has to fight every step to execute her vision’s standards.
The film itself does not span just one show; rather, it takes the audience on a journey from building one of the three stages on international rotation through countless performances in a never-ending line of stadiums, edited seamlessly together. In a split second, ten different versions of Beyoncé flash across the screen, showcasing the dazzling craft of the costume designers and creators who produced over 140 individual looks for the tour, including homages to the robot from Metropolis and Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, not to mention corresponding looks for Blue Ivy and the dancers. The Renaissance looks were a highlight of this summer’s tour, but seeing each one in detail on the big screen adds another level; seeing the word ‘Unique’ spelled across Beyoncé’s nails exemplifies every detail she has considered.
The film is interspersed with interludes, much like the production itself. While the tour’s intervals are visual feasts that take place in “Mother’s Mind,” the interludes of the film are quieter and more personal. A section focused on Beyoncé’s recent knee injury and subsequent surgery feels especially baring, and her rehabilitation gives the film stakes as the audience feels the gravity of what it means to tour as a 42-year-old mother of three. Beyoncé’s children feature heavily throughout the film, particularly 11-year-old Blue Ivy Carter, who offers insight into performing with her mother and facing backlash online in a very touching moment of the film. Her resistance to letting her daughter perform on stage is met by the strong will of a young girl who is determined to prove herself, and it is clear that Blue has inherited her mother’s work ethic. Her mother and father also feature in this film, with her mother telling stories of late uncle Johnny, who passed in the AIDs crisis and whose name is featured in the song Heated. Beyoncé and her mother discuss his influence over early costumes for Destiny’s Child, as well as being responsible for introducing her to House music, which would later become the inspiration for the album. It is a very tender tribute that reflects the heart of the Renaissance era: providing a safe space to celebrate Black queer culture.
Appearances from queer icons such as Kevin JZ Prodigy, whose voice is heard emceeing throughout the show, pay homage to ballroom culture and bring life to the spectacle of the show. The film showcases ornate hand-made costumes worn by the audience members, elaborate hairstyles and make-up looks, as well as endless fans. The fans flick open in unison during the Heated chant, a significant highlight of the film. Moments like this, the Mute challenge, and the ballroom section transport the audience to the stadiums, and it’s impossible not to feel like you’re at the party. The music sounds incredible; blasted through high-quality speakers with a loud base is precisely how this album should be heard. Beyoncé’s vocals are crisp, clear, and blend perfectly with the instrumental performance. From the very first song, the ballad “Dangerously in Love,” Beyoncé is making it clear that at this stage in her career, she’s at the top of her vocal game with no sign of slowing down.
“Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé” is meticulously crafted, with variations in camera types from 8mm to fish-eye lens footage combined with the video visuals from the tour itself. The editing is a strong point of the film; at 2 hours and 48 minutes, it never drags or feels slow. It often flies through portions of the show, never quite landing in one location long enough to allow you to get your bearings, and it makes well-thought-out cuts to the setlist that won’t leave the audience feeling shortchanged.
The only time of stillness for the audience is the section dedicated to Beyoncé’s hometown of Houston, Texas. There is never a moment to catch your breath before you are whisked to the next section of the film. Early on, we see the night that the power failed during “Alien Superstar.” It all happens very quickly; a crew of people works at light speed to fix the power while Beyoncé changes costume before rising onto the stage floor with wings on her back in a moment of absolute triumph. The backstage shots add so much humanity to the show, from watching dancers warm up to Blue Ivy dancing backstage. The cocktail of larger-than-life showmanship combined with down-to-earth family moments presents a woman who has become so much more than a pop star, and while the film is definitely well-written and controlled, it feels organic. Performances with Megan Thee Stallion and Kendrick Lamar lift the film, and one moment that features Diana Ross singing to Beyoncé for her birthday reminds us how beloved she is industry-wide. For what feels like the first time, we see Beyoncé being silly, dropping props, making mistakes, and laughing it off. A poignant scene recorded by Jay-Z shows her describing herself as ‘liberated” as she declares, “I have transformed into a new animal” to the camera.
“Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé” represents the very best of Beyoncé as an artist and as a person. Soul-baring, meticulous, generous, and astounding, it is unrelenting in its power and will undoubtedly leave audiences feeling inspired, whether they are certified Beyhive or not.
You can follow Katie and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars & Film on Twitter at @katiedoesfilms