A review of 'Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé' from NPR's 'It's Been a Minute'
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Last weekend global superstar Beyonce dropped her concert film "Renaissance: A Film By Beyonce," and NPR's Brittany Luse and B.A. Parker from our It's Been A Minute Podcast went to the premiere. Here's Parker.
B A PARKER, BYLINE: Beyonce is wonderful. Blue did great. All of it's fantastic.
SHAPIRO: The credits make it very clear who is in charge of making the film - written by Beyonce, produced by Beyonce, starring - you get the idea. And in a film that blends footage from her massive, record-breaking tour with quieter, behind-the-scenes documentary footage, what Beyonce says is just as notable as what she doesn't. Brittany and Parker get into what was said and what wasn't and why both of those things are critical to Beyonce's own ethology.
BRITTANY LUSE, BYLINE: I feel like, overall, what I watched was well-done, high-quality, also definitely, absolutely captured the spirit of the experience of seeing it live in concert. I felt like there was also a very effectively employed narrative throughout the documentary itself...
PARKER: For sure.
LUSE: ...That, like, definitely got my attention. I feel like one of the big takeaways that I had from the film was, like, Beyonce as executive producer. She was trying to show us just how good she is - and she is damn good - at having a vision, communicating that vision and then executing it.
PARKER: And still having people not listen to her while she's trying to be a boss.
PARKER: Can I ask you something, though?
PARKER: What did you learn that was new?
LUSE: There was this moment early on in the documentary where she's using footage from a concert where they lost sound and, like, part of the power went out. And there was this kind of, like, disaster basically on stage which would have prevented the performance from going on.
LUSE: And you see her sort of, like, go under the stage. And she's trying to figure out, like, OK, what song are we going to start with? Am I going to change into my costume? We have, like, three minutes or whatever. It was a very short period of time to be able to get everything back and moving. And the way that she was able to have that problem get fixed in such a short period of time and be able to move on to pretty much a seamless show - that impressed me. She is such a professional when it comes to performance and the precision of her performances. Like, there's a very famous cut in the "Homecoming" documentary where the entire - every performer on stage does, like, a jump turn.
LUSE: And their costumes change from, I think, from yellow to pink or pink to yellow - whichever. And I didn't realize that was that big of a deal when I saw the documentary. But my husband, who's a documentary film editor, was like, wait. Wait. Wait.
PARKER: It's hard.
LUSE: We have to run that back. He was explaining to me how, like...
PARKER: It's so precise.
LUSE: Yeah, it's so precise. They would have had to rehearse not just the choreography and the set and all the logistics but, like, every single camera angle, the speed at which the cameras are moving, the camera tracks, all the dolly tracks. Everything would have had to be exactly precise. And she had so many more cuts like that in this documentary...
LUSE: ...Which I was expecting.
PARKER: 'Cause I remember the whole, like, "Diva" sequence...
LUSE: Yes, that's what it was.
PARKER: ...Was so good because it implemented that same idea.
LUSE: Yeah. What, to you, felt new in what you were watching?
PARKER: The massiveness of the tour. This took four years in the making. And that was like, damn, we ain't never going to get a part two or part three.
PARKER: I was like, when? I'm like, this took four years. There's going to be three more presidents before we get this next album (laughter). I think what I love about Beyonce is the same thing that kind of frustrates me about her because she's so curated. Like, I know everything and nothing at the same time.
LUSE: You said that - right? - when we came out of the movie (laughter).
PARKER: I feel like she has bared her soul and said nothing. I was like, I think something profound happened. I can't tell you what it was. Like, she no longer has to do interviews, which - I mean, bless her 'cause interviews...
LUSE: I have different thoughts about that, but continue. I'll share them, but continue.
PARKER: But because it is so curated and so from her perspective, she doesn't have to be accountable for anything because she's in control of it.
LUSE: Bingo. One of the things I've been thinking a lot about in her not wanting to do interviews and things like that - she's a person who requests continuously inordinate amounts of the public's time, money, adoration, support. And by not ever engaging with the press at this point...
LUSE: ...And, like you said, having every single interaction with the public, like, sanctioned and designed by her...
LUSE: ...It's like she's requesting all of these things from the public, but there's no way for her to be held accountable for anything. To me, after a while, I feel like it can also absolutely harm your brand as well.
PARKER: She's a person who has curated a space, has made herself a political figure, whether she likes it or not. I mean, is there cognitive dissonance between - in her art that we don't want to dig deep in because she's Beyonce? Sure. I mean, the lady who dresses as a Black Panther on an NFL field and says, like, you just may be a Black Bill Gates in the making, which are two...
PARKER: ...Different things...
LUSE: Yeah (laughter).
PARKER: But it's a vibe because you're like, I feel like I'm still going to dance to Beyonce.
LUSE: Yes, yes. But I have a theory for why it's so easy for this dissonance to happen. Like, she's trafficked in these leftist political symbols. And...
LUSE: There are critics of hers on the left and also critics of hers within her fan base who are looking at what's happening with Israel and Palestine and feeling like, OK, your silence on this topic is not congruent with the political imagery that you have used in your work. And something that I have been thinking a lot about was, like, OK, if this is Beyonce's statement, right...
LUSE: ...What is she trying to say to us about not just herself but also her politics? And I felt like I came away from - on Friday night, having watched the documentary, I was taking notes. And I was saying that, like, Beyonce's politic to me is very much about celebration. She used that word. Joy is a theme that comes up a lot.
PARKER: Safe space, she said a lot.
LUSE: Safe space. Heal the world. One of the words I wrote down was palatable.
LUSE: Beyonce's politics, as she puts them out through her art and through her public image, are very much based in celebration, joy and palatability. And the thing is that if your political message is palatable, that usually means it's lacking specificity (laughter). And that's why if, you know, the song and lyrics in, you know, "Break My Soul" are being co-opted by people whose politics are not, you know, what's considered leftist, I think that's because anybody can project their values onto something that she's made. And I think that's what we've seen play out.
PARKER: Which is why the segment that was about Uncle Johnny...
LUSE: Oh, yes, like, her gay uncle, who inspired...
PARKER: ...Designed a lot of her clothes and inspired the tour, the album and everything, stood out the most to me and was the most affecting for me because, you know, like, I cried during it. Like, there was, like, something beautiful about it - being able to share that with the fans and, like, fans having signs like, Uncle Johnny made my dress. Like, there's like this beautiful legacy to it. And that is a political act. That is something that I don't know if she would have been confident enough to highlight years ago. So it's clear that she knows what her platform can do and what speaking out can do.
LUSE: I think that you raise a very good point. This is somebody who knows how to use their voice. And so her strategic silence, whether with the press or in certain political moments where she feels like it may be "unsafe," quote, unquote - I think that her silence is also very telling. And as you said, like, after dabbling in political imagery, she is a political figure now, whether or not she wants that.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BREAK MY SOUL")
BEYONCE: (Singing) Everybody...
SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Brittany Luse and B.A. Parker. And you can hear more of their analysis of Beyonce's "Renaissance" film by listening to NPR's Its Been A Minute podcast.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BREAK MY SOUL")
BEYONCE: (Singing) Now, I just fell in love. I just quit my job. I'm going to find new drive. Damn, they work me so damn hard. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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