HBO Documentary Review: BEYONCE: LIFE IS BUT A DREAM

By | HBO Series: Documentaries | Feb 17, 2013

Beyonce posterOverview: It seems that quite a bit went into the creation of this precedential documentary. First, it was created, produced and co-directed by Beyonce Knowles herself. It is comprised of home movies, concert footage and raw footage from her laptop.  It also contains thousands of hours of private footage, compiled by a “visual director” Beyoncé employs who has shot practically her every waking moment, up to sixteen hours a day, since 2005. It is edited together into a 90-minute film which was pitched as “intimate,” and “revealing,” with “unprecedented access.” It proves to be an extraordinary film in that respect. Then it was shopped around.

Reports say that the star’s management wooed HBO corporate for six weeks before they bought the rights.  HBO’s president of programming Michael Lombardo explained the network’s apprehension to GQ. It seems they weren’t crazy about Beyonce’s agents pitching the singer as co-director. He said –

“My first response to myself was, ‘Okay, that doesn’t sound like something we normally would do. It sounds a little bit like it’s probably going to be a fluff piece. We have a long history at HBO in the documentary world and in the music world, and, the notion of any person of note being responsible for the editorial choices in a story about themselves is something I approach with some degree of cynicism.”

Evidently he changed his mind and HBO had a unique film on their hands and from a superstar to boot. By its own admission though, the film was hard to categorize and it was a risk. Plus, there was the notion that HBO was dealing with a powerful force that set the terms from day one; that force was Beyonce. Would anyone else ever get to walk into HBO with the carte blanche she did?

Expectations: I ignored the trailer when it first came out because I didn’t want any more preconceived notions of what this documentary special was going to offer. I’m glad I held off because upon watching it I felt irritated.

 

Review: I will confess that I may not be the best writer to post about this documentary. I would welcome an opposing view either in the Comments below or in a separate post. But, why am I not the best choice? It is because I am not a big fan of “celebrity.” Of course, BEYONCE: LIFE IS BUT A DREAM is all about celebrity and specifically, how the subject of this film keeps that in balance with a personal life. At least that is what I think the last 90 minutes have been about. I am still not sure and I’m still not sure I care. I may be in the minority here but, I have a hard time relating to someone that makes more in an hour than I make in a year. I have a hard time relating to a person who hires someone to film her 24/7. I have a hard time relating to someone who struggles to show pride in her pregnancy. What was she afraid of exactly? It is not like she needed to welcome the world to her bedroom, or to the birth or any such thing. I didn’t get it. She could have just made her public appearances and never explained the “baby bump” if she was that stressed on privacy. Yeah, “row, row, row, your boat life is but a dream” if you got everything you want at your fingertips, For most it is a whole lot of rowing without getting anywhere and for others life is a nightmare.  beyonece andbabe

Now before you launch into hate mail towards me, let me state that I do understand the stresses involved with being a celebrity. There are paparazzi and scrutiny etc. and, God forbid, if one is packing any cellulite – which it looks like Beyonce isn’t.  I get that. But, it comes with the job.

Unfortunately, that persistent tone was locked in my mind throughout the special and started, as I mentioned earlier, while viewing the trailer. I much rather had preferred an HBO Concert than this. HBO used to have concerts all the time back in the day. Besides the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame gigs and Lady Gaga we haven’t had a good concert air. Instead we got a film that the filmmaker felt was sincere and meaningful and a weeping Oprah Winfrey called empowering. Even if Beyonce’s heart and soul were in the right place it still came across to me as vain and egotistical in a soft way. I know she is as human as the rest of us; it doesn’t take a micromanaged film to tell me that.

In Conclusion: I always like to watch things that stir my emotions regardless of whether it is in a positive or negative manner. So I appreciate having seen this film. Many outlets enjoyed it as well and for different reasons. Some stated it was “just for the fans not a casual watcher,” it was called a “game changer in the field of documentaries,” and “surprising and cool.” I’m sure it will get more buzz as it continues to air on HBO. But I wish I could still figure out what she was babbling about.

Additional airings of BEYONCE: LIFE IS BUT A DREAM appear across all of HBO’s platforms over the next two weeks and can be seen on HBOGo.

Again, feel free to disagree with my ‘gut reaction’ in the comments below.


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  • Alejandra Sandchez

    This baby reminds me of Drake!

  • Flower Child

    I’m a 25-year-old in that weird transition period between girl and woman (wasn’t quite sure which to call myself). The themes of independence, trusting oneself, navigating through a cutthroat professional world as a young lady (“business and polite don’t mix”), and spreading the love all resonated very deeply with me. I teared up more than once while watching this. It was also really fascinating to Beyonce in juxtaposition to “Sasha”…I think all of us women have a Sasha. ;)

    In short, I found the documentary inspiring because of how much of myself I saw in it. It’s definitely for a certain demographic.

    • Jef Dinsmore

      I’m glad it meant something to someone besides Oprah, Flower Child, for it appears that it did not for many. And you probably will make alright in the world without her ‘empowerment.”

  • Eleonora Iafano

    Agree with both of you Jef and Jacob: I think this is a very egotistical account of her life. I have a real issue trying to believe that she is scared. She has millions of dollars to her name, a personal entourage, success, etc. However, I just found that this documentary was something more to inflate her ego. I like Beyonce’s music but this was just fluff. Enough already! Has anyone ever checked out Kelly Rowlands? Now that woman can sing, dance and has the looks, too! Always overshadowed by Bey, in my honest opinion.

  • http://hbowatch.com/ Jacob Klein

    Aaand it looks like it’s getting murdered in the press: http://idolator.com/7442026/beyonce-life-is-but-a-dream-hbo-documentary-review

    ” It’s an infomercial, not just about Beyoncé’s talent onstage but her authenticity behind the scenes. She is a people-pleasing diva and she wants to keep it that way…this documentary doesn’t really convey what life as a celebrity is like, but it does say a lot about how this celebrity would like to be seen.” – The New York Times

    Pretty much how I felt too. Ouch.

  • Cian Gaffney

    Great review, Jef. I too am very opposed to the whole celebrity concept, and quite biased in that regard. I hadn’t actually done much research on this documentary at all, but it actually seems like it wan’t required. This is purely my opinion, but no self-made documentary can claim to be an accurate representation of the people/information being explored. It’s just common sense that no one can eliminate all bias and preconceptions, and have a completely objective view of themselves. It looks like HBO would have been better off leaving this in the drawing room with Beyonce herself.

  • http://hbowatch.com/ Jacob Klein

    Here’s my issue with this documentary. You cant just SAY “I have fears and get sick and get worried too” You have to SHOW us. I thought that was what this documentary was going to be. But it was just these brief interviews with her in between her crushing it on stage (half the doc is a Beyonce concert basically). In the interviews she says “I am scared sometimes” but none of the evidence really convinced me of that.

    As you say Jef, she has unlimited resources and could (and probably has?) just purchased a private island to hang out on. There is a scene where shes on a private yacht in the middle of nowhere in the tropics with some friends. See.. some people never leave the country let alone get to do that WHENEVER THEY WANT. So you cant go to Walgreens anymore without being mugged. I’d gladly trade that for the ability to charter Jet all my friends to Kokamo to my private yachting house whenever I needed/wanted to.

    I think there is a dark side to being a celebrity but she didn’t expose it or reveal it or convince anyone of it in this documentary. This was basically a fluff piece for she and her career. Which is fine. But I don’t know if it should be placed alongside HBO’s other documentaries like WITNESS or BLUE COVE or MEA MAXIMA CULPA. It doesn’t penetrate or offer anything new.

    Unless a picture of a baby counts.





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