The Manufacture of Beyoncé

The Beyoncé documentary, terribly titled Life is But a Dream, is the most beautiful paint you will ever watch drying. Bey is a star who is charismatic and ambitious and hard working and also tightly in control of her image and what she allows the world to know of her. We learn absolutely nothing new. Even the candids aren’t very candid. The documentary, that term being a technicality, includes Bey talking to herself on her MacBook Pro, clips of her being followed by cameras, clips of her being interviewed in a white room on a white couch, her hair piled on her head in coils of blonde braid, performance segments and lots of voiceovers designed to convey profundity. At the end, there’s a Tree of Life/Al Gore talking about his family’s tobacco farm moment that’s a bit inexplicable and then, finally, we get to see about ninety precious seconds of the chosen one, Blue Ivy. The 90-minute film is a highly choreographed performance of Beyoncé playing Beyoncé. It’s not terribly exciting but it’s still watchable because Bey and her team have done a very good job of making us forget she neither has the greatest voice nor can she act.

In addition to demonstrating a very intense love of all things Beyoncé, Bey says all the “right” things about her life, separating from her father as manager, the difficulty of being a woman and the pro-woman messages she tries to send through her music, her relationship with Jay-Z and, of course, how she feels about motherhood, which has given her life meaning and made her complete. She told Oprah she didn’t know herself until she became a mother. 

It’s curious but throughout the documentary, Bey gives credit to nearly everyone but herself for who she is. Her mother, her father, Jay, and her daughter all seem to be the cornerstones of who she is. It leaves you to wonder who Beyoncé would be if she peeled away all the influences.

Then again, who would any of us be without the people who have shaped our lives?

During the documentary, there is a trajectory from Bey as a young performer to Bey the seasoned performer, wife, and mother who is more confident and in control of her life. In her Oprah interview, she confides that her alter ego, Sasha Fierce, is now “fully integrated,” making her Beyoncé Sasha Fierce Knowles. Bey knows how to tell a good, albeit overly scripted and predictable story, that’s for sure.

There are no major revelations or insights here. We don’t ever get to see Bey looking anything but flawless. Even her candid, middle of the night, talking to her laptop shots make her look like the most beautiful woman in the world. Instead of showing us the real Beyoncé, if such a person exists, what this documentary shows us is that Beyoncé’s is as much a produced affair as her latest album or music video. There’s no shame in that. In fact, it might even be brilliant, that no matter what, she’s keeping herself to herself. Ultimately, Beyoncé understands her life as commodity. She understands what her audience wants. She gives us exactly that.