What you need to know
The Eras Tour film presents the no-frills platonic ideal of the show, competently preserved for international and future Swifties.
International Swifties rejoice! With Sam Wrench’s Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour, produced by Swift herself, now we, too, can bask in the triumphant glory of our billionaire Queen Mother Taylor Alison “Blondie” Swift, PhD, without paying through the nose for tickets, accommodation, and airfare. The days of having to stay up at ungodly hours to squint at a grainy livestream and scroll through stan Twitter are no more — though, with the tour continuing through December of next year at least, you still can if you want to.
I needn’t rehash the tour’s various artistic, cultural, financial, economic, and seismographic accomplishments. A quote from its Wikipedia page stating that it “received unanimous acclaim from critics” should suffice. “Unanimous,” might I remind you, means that not a single critic disagrees. Here I’ll focus on the film as a cinematic experience.
Even with international dates, most Swifties the world over will watch the film in lieu of a once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage; Asia has only two tour stops, and Africa none at all. It’s therefore of utmost importance that the film be a faithful record of the show.
Wrench mostly succeeds. Since there’s no extra footage, the main difference is the loss of a handful of songs from the three performances at SoFi Stadium near Los Angeles that were recorded and stitched together for the film: “The Archer,” “no body, no crime” with HAIM, “Long Live” (which plays over the end credits, and whose cut is glaringly obvious as it’s the only transition where Swift doesn’t exit the stage), “Wildest Dreams” with its stellar tour visuals, and “cardigan.” That still leaves forty songs, mind: basically all the hit singles, plus a smattering of deep cuts from the albums which have never been performed before a live crowd (folklore, evermore, and Midnights). Even Swift’s self-titled debut album, usually neglected, makes the cut by way of an acoustic guitar performance of “Our Song.” Transitions are also generally omitted, most noticeably the spoken “seven” interlude. (Ironically, one such omission highlights the genius of going from “tolerate it” into reputation.) The result is a version of the three-and-a-half-hour show that ends before the three-hour mark.
Yet even this might be a tad long, particularly if you see it in IMAX, as I did. Tales of people falling asleep at the Eras Tour make more sense when you find yourself emotionally pummeled by banger after heart-wringing banger. Wrench knows this all too well: When Swift launches into “You Belong With Me” by inviting us back to high school with her, the song starts in blurred focus (cinematography by Brett Turnbull), mirroring Swiftie tears of nostalgia.
The songs, it goes without saying, are perfect — more than perfect, even, as the audio is recorded directly from the onstage microphones, capturing details that can be lost among a live crowd. Little note changes here and percussion switch-ups there make for pleasant surprises. In that sense, it’s kind of like listening to the Taylor’s Versions. And speaking of the audio, you may hear a vocal echo in some of the quieter moments. That’s not a fluke; it’s the crowd singing along, loud enough to be picked up even though the mic range is severely limited to prevent feedback loops. In fact, the cheers at every lull and highlight are so loud that I wished I’d brought along some earplugs, as Eras Tour concert attendees advise each other to do. (Now I can barely hear the sound of my own typing.)
The camerawork, on the other hand, is an impossible proposition. Sitting in a stadium, you can see Swift’s intimate performance via whatever she puts on the huge LCD screen that backs the T-shaped (or vault key–shaped) stage, as well as the vague outline of whatever the dancers are doing; if you’re sitting near the stage, it’s probably vice versa. Watching the film, however, we get both, just never at the same time. The focus is almost always on Swift, and rightly so, as her inner theater kid shines through brilliantly. Only in a single shot does her game face fall, and we see her steeling herself for the next number, “Midnight Rain”; even the indefatigable Swift gets tired by the end. At the same time, there’s always a nagging curiosity as to what the dancers’ choreography looks like, and the few glimpses we get reveal that they, too, are delivering intricate performances, facial expressions and all.
The solution Wrench hits on is editing (by Dom Whitworth), which, thank Taylor, isn’t as hyperactive as that of Swift’s previous two tour documentaries (one critic said of the particularly scissor-happy editing of 2015’s The 1989 World Tour Live that it “verges on the avant-garde”). It’s mostly competent, which is by no means a bad thing, but one longs for more. Having just three days for principal photography is no excuse, as the show is meticulously choreographed (the bicycles during “Blank Space,” for example, have to follow a set route for the lines on the stage floor’s LCD screen to appear behind them), allowing for extensive preplanning, and Wrench even gets access to the footage displayed on the large screen during the show.
The one song where Whitworth slips is “Delicate.” At key moments, Swift stomps the stage at preset points, matching a floor animation of cracks forming on glass. Not once do we get a coherent shot of this action and reaction, and fatigued viewers might miss the connection. Even worse, Swift at one point during the song twirls for the camera and momentarily leaves the frame.
Small imperfections aside, the film succeeds beyond our wildest dreams at its two aims: to offer a religious experience for us Swifties, and to spread the gospel of Swift far and wide (judging by the film’s critical reception, many have been converted). Armond White isn’t entirely wrong to say that our fearless leader wields totalitarian power. Like Queen Elizabeth’s in Shakespeare’s day, ours is a cult of love. And as they say, love conquers all.
Also, Bob Dylan, just in case you’re reading this: Please nominate Taylor for a Nobel already!
Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour is in theaters.
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TNL Editor: Kim Chan (@thenewslensintl)
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