All the World’s a Screen: Concert films fuel our desire to witness historic performances

Shutianyi Li/Daily Trojan

Where would we be without film? I don’t mean that in a figurative sense, I mean where would we literally be without film’s ability to transport us places we would never go and insert us into times we never experienced? Through movies, though our bodies remain stationary, our senses are teleported away. Without film, our minds would be confined to their basic schemas of thought, limited in experience. Critic Roger Ebert called movies an “empathy machine” that allows us to live in another’s shoes — but more than that, movies are teleportation and time machines. With the rise of musician biopics and “event” films like Beyoncé’s Netflix debut “Homecoming,” film is embracing its transportational abilities.

“Homecoming” primarily documents Beyoncé’s now-iconic performances at Coachella 2018. Although the energy mainly comes from the performance itself, “Homecoming” is simply an expertly made film. It intercuts between the performance and the preparation that led up to it, offering a holistic view of the sweat and tears that resulted in an unprecedented triumph.

Narrated by the superstar herself, the behind-the-scenes snippets show the unfathomable amount of planning that she had to curate in the months leading up to the festival. Beyoncé, who had just given birth, weaved in and out of three enormous sound stages each dedicated to a part of the performance: dancing, music and production design. She not only dictated every detail of every costume and prop, but also trained harder than any of her dancers while raising her newborn twins. All this, and she managed to pull off one of the defining performances of our time. “Homecoming” is a showcase of excellence.

It’s also another step in the growing trend of concert and “event” movies. Last year, “Bohemian Rhapsody” raked in millions at the box office, hailed (pretty much only) for its frame-for-frame depiction of Queen’s 1985 Live Aid performance. At the start of this year, “Apollo 11” showed us what it was like to witness the moon landing as if we were living it; a few weeks ago, “Amazing Grace” took us to New Temple Missionary Baptist Church to watch Aretha Franklin give a taste of what heaven sounds like; and later this year, “Rocketman” will tell Elton John’s tale and recreate his most famous performances. Movies have always been a reflection of our culture’s fears and longings, and today, it seems like we all want to say, “I was there.” These movies promise an out-of-body experience.

In our celebrity-saturated culture, we idolize figures like Freddy Mercury, Aretha Franklin and Beyoncé because, if we’re honest, we think they’re more than human. In one humorous but touching “Homecoming” moment, Beyoncé throws a towel to a desperate fan who proceeds to hyperventilate and tear up as if he received a holy relic from the Queen herself. I’d say this isn’t an overreaction at all; we elevate these famous personalities to unreachable heights. Nowadays, we want to see them up close, we want to be there — and now we can — through the screen. But, a danger lurks beneath the allure of watching Live Aid or Aretha Franklin as if we were there.

Watching great artists perform, we are subject to the erroneous belief that we must have the spotlight to be successful. If we don’t get all the attention, is it because we aren’t doing anything noteworthy with our lives? Who gets to say if our lives, if our art matters anyways? “Homecoming” offers pounds of hope and encouragement, but with one message in particular resonated with me, one that manifested when the film drew our attention elsewhere — (believe it or not) away from Beyoncé.

When the film cuts away from Beychella, we get to see all the hard work Beyoncé put into the show, but it’s work that would have been impossible without her team. Beyoncé isn’t the only excellent artist on display: There are hundreds flawlessly performing behind her. Toward the conclusion, we are shown snapshots of many of these performers: each one a story, each one a face just as important as the one they’re supporting.

As we witness the concert and event films that are surely to follow — as we get to see celebrities we regard as borderline demi-gods grace our screens —  let’s not just praise the talent of the principal artist but be inspired to create great things ourselves, knowing they have worth regardless of whether we get our own Netflix special or not.

Isa Uggetti is a sophomore writing about film. He is also the lifestyle editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “All the World’s a Screen,” ran every other Tuesday.