Even at 3:30 a.m., without makeup, hair mussed and sheets pulled high around that bodacious body, Beyonce is stunning.
“I just had a feeling last week that something is going on,” she says to the camera. “I found out last week that I am with child.”
It’s that expression, disarmingly open yet still guarded, that marks Beyonce Knowles’ documentary “Beyonce: Life Is but a Dream,” premiering Saturday, Feb. 16, on HBO.
In an interview with Zap2it two days before she was to sing the national anthem at Inauguration Day, Beyonce talks about what prompted her to make this film about her life.
“Well, I have been working on this for three or four years,” she says. “And I felt like no one knows who I am. And that has been a conscious decision because I always keep my private life private and my stage persona — I keep things separate. It is my way of maintaining my sanity and stability and gauge of what is real and what is not.”
The unusual aspect is, even as Beyonce talks about the love of her life, Jay-Z; a miscarriage; and the eventual joy of being pregnant with their daughter, the film never plunges into the crass exhibitionism of reality shows.
Beyonce, who also directs and executive produces this, does not cross that line. As she is being driven to a rehearsal for the Super Bowl halftime show, and with her baby girl Blue Ivy cooing in the background, Beyonce says, “I have instincts. I have always been a person who had boundaries; even in school, and I was in eighth grade, I never told anyone I was a performer.
“I don’t know why,” she continues. “It has just been my taste, in my DNA. That is who I am. All of those private moments are real, are honest. Some things are battles I faced: Should I put this in the documentary? Should I not? It was therapy for me, and if I could grow from it and make someone else feel, then that is my job to do it.”
What comes through in the film is that family and friends are real to her. Beyonce stares into the camera, her vulnerability palpable as she talks about when she did not want her dad to be her manager anymore, how she needed to set boundaries so she could have her family be just that, and how she needed to take charge of her career.
Beyonce talks about how women work harder to earn less than what men make and how women need to be financially independent. Yes, she does seem to have it all: international superstardom, 16 Grammy Awards, tremendous wealth, a sexy beauty that almost seems unreal and this phenomenal talent.
That talent is on display on stages, as the film features numbers from concerts and awards shows. But one scene that truly captures how natural that talent is shows Beyonce in the back of a car, by herself. She is working on a song, sounding better than so many pop stars could after technicians work their magic in postproduction.
Ultimately what Beyonce talks about, which will resonate deepest with viewers, is simply being a woman who loves her husband, mother and grandmother and has deep ties with her girlfriends.
“It is the story of a woman and every human being,” she says. “And it was important that I just didn’t do a story of being a celebrity, of [being] a performer. I am so much more than that. We all are, and I wanted people to see who I am, and hopefully inspire them and give some hope.”
Though Jay-Z is naturally in the documentary, he is not interviewed. He is there as her husband, her supporter and the man from whom she has taken artistic guidance.
Beyonce is fierce when she explains how she doesn’t let record company executives into the studio while she is working. Clearly, she knows what she is doing, confident in her abilities and in trusting herself. That grounding is evident early on.
Snippets from old home movies show a little girl with big hair, her sense of style apparent in her purple dress and white cowboy boots, as she happily hangs with her sisters. There’s video of her in her early teens singing Michael Jackson’s “I Wanna Be Where You Are!”
In the film, Beyonce talks about sweeping up the hair at her mom’s salon and how she would sing for clients, then insist on being paid. This shows the savvy businesswoman but also reveals the daughter, friend, wife and now mother.
“I guess it is about so many different things,” Beyonce says. “Knowing that at the end of the struggle there is a purpose for the struggle, and just trusting and learning to be. For me, I am a person that always tries to be in control and such a perfectionist, and learning there are certain things you cannot control, and that is what is so beautiful about life. Life is but a dream. You are constantly rowing that boat to get there.”