Beyoncé special fails to debunk celebrity illusions

Beyoncé is shown at a recording session during the HBO documentary, touted as an intimate look at the performer's life.
Beyoncé is shown at a recording session during the HBO documentary, touted as an intimate look at the performer's life. (Parkwood Entertainment)
Posted: February 17, 2013

Beyoncé makes a sharp, if ultimately ironic, observation about the media midway in her HBO documentary, Beyoncé: Life Is but a Dream, which premieres Saturday at 9 p.m.

"People are brainwashed," she says.

"You get up in the morning, you click on the computer [and] you see all these pictures [of celebrities]. And all you think of is the picture and the image you see all day, every day. And you don't see the human form."

An autobiography of sorts executive-produced and codirected by Beyoncé, Life Is but a Dream promises to cut through the veil, the manufactured illusions, and give us a taste of Beyoncé the individual, Beyoncé the artist, Beyoncé the wife and mother.

It fails on virtually every front. Like other celebrity hagiographies on heavy rotation on E! or the Biography Channel, Dream is little more than an exercise in self-mythification, sold, a little cynically, as an intimate look at the artist's naked soul.

Coming in at a very padded 90 minutes (at 60, it might be a genuinely good entry in VH1's Behind the Music series), Dream is composed of home movies going back to the singer's childhood, contemporary video diaries, a set of interviews, behind-the-scenes shots, and concert footage.

It's a hodgepodge that never coheres. What's the documentary about? The purpose?

Is it anything beyond more self-publicity?

The documentary opens on a shot of the Houston-born singer's childhood home - it's all schmaltzy piano stylings and mounting violin crescendos.

"My dad knew that I needed his approval," Beyoncé says in voice-over.

"And I think my father wouldn't give it to me. Because he kept pushing me. And kept pushing me. And kept pushing me. Every time my dad pushed me, I got better and stronger."

Cut to 2011, when Beyoncé decides to fire her dad, Mathew Knowles, as her manager. It's a question of independence, she says.

The first half of the film is a plug for Beyoncé's latest album, 4, and tour. Beyoncé seems shocked by its staggering sales.

Throughout, she complains about the cult of celebrity and how our obsession with gossip taints our reception of artists' work.

We then meet Beyoncé, wife to Jay-Z, and Beyoncé mother to Ivy Blue. "I felt God was giving me a chance to assist in a miracle," she says of the birth.

Life Is but a Dream is a carefully filtered snapshot of an artist who has enough power to become maker of her own myth.

It's a bewildering experience, considering how utterly natural, warm, and affecting she is on camera.

Contact Tirdad Derakhshani

at 215-854-2736 or