Now in theaters: A three-hour testament to Taylor Swift's titan era
Ever sinceI saw Taylor Swift perform in August, I've struggled – even as a non-Swiftie – to put into words the sheer spectacle and electric energy of that night. I've often turned to the shaky amateur footage on my phone to relay the magical madness inside SoFi Stadium.
Well, it turns out the flexing and nostalgia were completely unnecessary because that show was recorded to live in pristine perpetuity for anyone to see. Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour is an impeccably shot multi-camera edit of Swift's Los Angeles performances, recorded in immersive surround sound and featuring almost the entire three-hour setlist, friendship bracelets, screams and tears – and a towering Taylor Swift no longer a distant analog dream but a supersized IMAX goddess.
So how does it compare to other concert films?
Concert films of course have a long lineage – and this is hardly Swift's first feature-length film. A film of the Reputation tour is still streaming on Netflix and on Disney+, folklore: the long pond studio sessions is a cozy flannel dream of firepits and intimate acoustic performance. This, however, is a movie theater extravaganza of the relentless show(wo)manship, spectacular stagecraft and choreography created in a landmark business partnership with AMC cinemas at a time of existential crisis for the theater business. For this opening weekend, the film is playing in both Dolby and IMAX theaters so if you either missed the show or simply must return, the biggest and sharpest screens are available.
As a concert film, however, "Eras" is not D.A. Pennebaker's iconic film of Monterey Pop or Cameron Crowe's 2011 Pearl Jam Twenty film filtered through the critical gaze and formal experimentation of an auteur. Unlike rockumentaries – as the genre was sometimes called – there is no backstage footage, grainy underground tunnels or pre-show jitters and interviews. Does it even matter? The Eras film is precisely as advertised: nothing more and nothing less than a perfectly edited recreation of an extraordinary show in all its technical, happiness-inducing splendor. It's a film as a forever souvenir and one that also has the rare distinction of being released widely while the tour it is based on is still underway.
What's it like to see it in theaters – and how does that compare to the in-person experience?
In cinematic form, Eras is somehow even more relentless and exhausting than the real thing. There is minimal time for the natural transitions, outfit changes, and on-screen animated interludes that make the show breathe. Movie magic allows for immediate transitions between Eras and the only effects added to the film are typographical flourishes announcing the title of each specific album – shout out to the Reputation era snake animated to literally wrap the entire runway before Taylor sashes into the spotlight. That, I might add, did not happen in real life.
The biggest loss in stage-to-screen adaptation, of course, is the community and in-person magic of the Eras tour that can never be fully recreated in front of a silver screen no matter how many times Nicole Kidman underscores the magic of AMC. To compensate, screaming, filming, and jumping are being encouraged and at my screening – the first at the AMC Americana in Glendale, Calif. – the majority of the audience was rarely in its seats. The exceptions were the accompanying moms, seated like me but filming their daughters who were in turn filming Taylor who has of course now become an actual film.
What is gained on-screen is a much closer view of all the details and big budget artistry. Swift is in her titan era and as she courses through her multiple past selves, there is a musical theater-style roleplay that accompanies each chapter. She is demure and kind during Enchanted in her Cinderella ballgown, vengeful and sexy during Reputation, and in her Victorian cat-lady cottage best during folklore, with a healthy dose of woodsy and witchy during evermore. The diverse and brilliant ensemble of dancers that accompanied her on this tour also get their due in the film version as each expression, adjacent choreography and smile or growl comes into focus.
So is The Eras Film going to "save" The Movies?
Much has been made of the economies Swift has lifted during this Eras cycle and now she could be the savior of the fall film season with endangered movie theaters struggling with meager offerings as Hollywood actors continue their strike and critics lament the death of serious cinema. Swift is a masterful storyteller and so her presence on movie screens seems to be a fitting and natural extension of her brand. She is in fact working on her first fictional feature film for Searchlight so multihyphenate moviemaker is clearly the next era.
That said, I am not quite sure Eras should be considered such a savior and comforting balm for cinema's struggles. It is wildly entertaining but it is also a curious product that speaks to the larger themes of our IP-based age of content – recycled, reused and repackaged spin-offs that find new, often exciting ways to extract consumers. Extraordinary concerts certainly deserve to be documented and filmed and rewatched and this tour remains inaccessible to so many outpriced and outmaneuvered by ticketing woes.
But as I left the cinema, a somber poster for Killers of the Flower Moon stared back at a wall-sized display of Swift in all her shimmering glory. That very traditional award-season film about the murders of indigenous Americans was already pushed back to make way for the Swifties and it is hardly in direct competition in theme or form. But what is playing on our increasingly limited numbers of moving screens, what is profitable, is in legitimate crisis. Is Eras the year's biggest movie and what larger era does that foreshadow? Well, Beyoncé is waiting her turn come November 30 – and even if I've already seen the in-person Renaissance, can anything truly complete with the Queen, now on the silver screen?
As with everything these women have achieved in this triumphant year, the entertainment industry's rules are being rewritten with each bejeweled move and regardless of what I or any critic thinks, the Eras film is already tracking to become the highest grossing concert film of all time.
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