At home with the queen

Beyoncé concert film energizes Netflix

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“If you surrender to the air, you can ride it.”

Novelist Toni Morrison’s quotation, written in bright white lettering against a dark background, appears on screen for one quiet moment, before the image snaps to a grainy video of a desert landscape. Slowly, the sound of an audience cheering grows in the silence that held Morrison’s words, and the unapologetically loud, brash account of Beyoncé’s concert begins.

Released through Netflix, “Homecoming” not only shows two of Beyoncé’s concerts, but the work she and her backup performers put into the show that originally took place for Coachella in 2018. In a manner reminiscent of the recordings of Queen’s iconic 1985 Live Aid performance, the film captures the blood-pumping thrill of a live concert.

Although “Homecoming” begins quietly, it quickly bursts into the electric activity of a Beyoncé concert — she first appears on a catwalk to blaring trumpets, wearing a dazzling outfit that would suit royalty. What make her introduction truly unique, however, are the semi-frequent cuts to other angles and forms of film.

For most of Beyoncé’s entrance onto a stage with a towering backdrop of lights, she walks toward the camera with her unique flare. Suddenly, the film cuts the audience view of the superstar — immediately, the screen turns grainy, something straight out of a 1970s Bob Dylan recorded performance. The change is so quick it’s nearly imperceptible, but the effect is impressive. The brief moment makes this new Beyoncé concert documentary nostalgic, an effect Beyoncé seems well-aware of, as she draws from those same nostalgic emotions throughout the film.

Beyoncé officially opens her concert after a noticeably fast costume change — from the elegantly complicated look of royalty to the more simplistic high school sweetheart outfit — and begins to sing in front of a shimmering cascade of fire, several rows of backup dancers and to the first notes of her classic song “Crazy in Love.”

And so begins her performance.

It’s one full of energy, made better by the stage’s set-up as a pseudo-high school stadium, allowing Beyoncé to move easily around her backup dancers and marching band. The two separate Coachella performances are expertly cut together to make the film appear as if it only depicts one. The only clear sign that viewers are watching different nights is the change in color in Beyoncé’s outfit — in one shot, she wears bright yellow, while the next shot features the same outfit in hot pink.

Following her energetic opening number, Beyoncé slowly climbs down the steps of the constructed high school stadium and, again, the camera changes into the old, grainy film of a time long-past. Similar to the beginning of the documentary, the change is effective. It clues audiences into a secret: They are not watching a typical concert documentary. They are watching something historic — they have been given the chance to see what became an iconic performance in well-thought out film tricks and techniques.

The grainy images fade easily into a black screen, interrupted only by a recording of singer Nina Simone, who explains the need she sees for black power and pushing young people to identify with their black culture. As a member of the most beautiful people in the world, Simone says, her job is to persuade young black people “by hook or by crook” to be aware of who they are and where they came from. Simone speaks over footage of Beyoncé and her backup performers preparing for her Coachella performance, and Simone promises to compel other black people to know and love their past by whatever means necessary.  

Simone’s narration fades away, leaving her powerful final line lingering over footage of Beyoncé discussing her rehearsal with people off-camera. When she learns she has an hour and a half left with her dancers, she immediately stands and instructs everyone to run through the rehearsal again — to strive to be better, by whatever means necessary.

As Beyoncé encourages her backup performers to work harder, to keep trying, the film shows footage of different groups of dancers and musicians laughing and working together throughout rehearsal. The intentional shift of focus from Beyoncé to all the people working with her reflects the desire Beyoncé expresses during her own turn with narration. For a long time, Beyoncé explains, she has wanted to give all people the chance to do what they want, and her documentary solidifies the fact that she has achieved her goal.

Even with the impressive stage and incredible choreography, Beyoncé’s powerful vocals easily stand out as the film’s highlight. Her easy, towering stage presence only adds to her talent — she knows exactly which songs her audience wants, the songs they’re expecting and the perfect way to introduce each one. The hypnotic way Beyoncé captures her audience is surpassed only by the sweet, quiet interruptions between concert segments — a stylistic choice that, done poorly, could have ruined the flow of the entire documentary. Instead, each interruption makes the concert scenes so much more enjoyable and so much more appreciated.

During the culmination of the concert, the film cuts to a black and white video of seven-year-old Blue Ivy Carter singing softly, with Beyoncé dipping into frame every once in a while to support her daughter and whisper the words she needs to know. After her brief performance, Blue Ivy smiles at her mother and says she wants to sing again. She says singing feels good.

Again, the film places focus on everyone — from backup dancers to musicians to people like Blue Ivy who give nothing but unerring support — involved in the conert, while Beyoncé explains how happy she is to take her ideas and inspire people. Again, she proves that the people she hopes to inspire is anyone, everyone.

As the final section of old footage plays, Beyoncé and her performers finally prepare for the concert behind a beautifully grainy layer of film, where lights flash and flare next to each performer, making the images hazy with memory.

The grainy footage snaps into the sharp, high-definition recording of the concert, and Beyoncé begins her final number. She’s changed into a sparkling one-piece as she begins singing one of her most iconic songs “Love on Top.”

The final shot of the concert pulls back from the stage, back from the crowd, showing the scope of the entire event. It’s huge, it’s impactful, it’s, as Beyoncé had hoped, inspirational. And it’s all for the people.

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