Taylor Swift successfully brings her 'Eras Tour' to the big screen – WBUR News

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The theater lobby looked like a bomb had gone off. Every trash can in sight was overflowing with discarded popcorn tubs and soda cups, stray candy wrappers and napkins strewn across the floor. Kids were running around all over the place, up past their bedtimes on fizzy pop confection sugar highs. It was late Saturday night on the opening weekend of “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour” at a suburban shopping mall multiplex on the North Shore. If you had to pick a local demographic epicenter of Taylor-mania this wouldn’t be a bad place to start. The manager of a nearby Ninety Nine Restaurant & Pub told me that waves of Swifties had been overwhelming the restaurant before and after every showtime, snacking on chicken tenders and “seemingly ranch.” “Make sure you pee first, it’s three hours,” warned a mom wrangling a handful of exhausted, elated little girls on their way out, before graciously offering to take a picture of my friend and me in front of AMC’s life-sized “Eras Tour” lightbox that had turned into a makeshift selfie station. Welcome to “Barbenheimer (Taylor’s Version).”
Top secret until Swift’s bombshell Aug. 31 announcement crashed ticket servers and sent studios scrambling to re-schedule competing releases, the singer’s self-produced concert film bypassed Hollywood’s usual distribution model and cut a deal directly with theaters. It’s another brilliant business move from the music industry’s savviest superstar, one that will score Swift a reported 57% of the box office take, while also offering a lifeline to exhibitors struggling in a strike season short on blockbusters because greedy studio executives would rather shut down production for five months and counting than pay fair wages to their writers and actors. With tickets priced at $19.89 for adults and $13.13 for kids, that’s a fraction of what families shelled out for nosebleed seats at Gillette this summer, not to mention better sightlines and free parking.
Shot over three shows in August during the singer’s six-night stand at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California, “The Eras Tour” is 168 minutes of exuberance from a performer at the peak of her powers. Skipping around the massive stage like a second grader at recess in a dazzling array of sequined swimsuits, microskirts and knee-high boots, Swift’s enthusiasm is infectious. Hers is a relentless force of positivity, powering through the catchy, often intensely wordy songs with an affable girlishness. “Oh, hi!” is how she starts the show, as if pleasantly surprised to find 70,000 people in her living room. (There’s nobody better at feigning astonishment at things she obviously knew were going to happen.) I’ve always thought that one of the smartest things Taylor Swift ever did was not learning how to dance very well. She’s such a disciplined workhorse she could probably do so in a weekend, but the slightly goofy gait helps keep her relatable, at once larger than life and the girl next door.
The movie wisely doesn’t try to be a documentary contextualizing the tour with interviews or behind-the-scenes footage. The songs are what we came for and the songs are what we get — 40 of them, by my count. With discretely designed segments devoted to nine of Swift’s albums, the show is a marvel of stadium-sized staging and costume changes, especially if you see the movie in IMAX, where the sheer scale of the event knocks your socks off. I have no idea how many cameras director Sam Wrench had capturing these concerts. They seem to be everywhere, but we never see them. Tens of thousands of cell phones in the crowd flicker like fireflies in the background of most shots, an annoyance when you’re in a live audience but oddly beautiful from this vantage point. There can be a sometimes haphazard quality to the cutting, mostly during up-tempo numbers straining to cram in everything happening onstage.
But during the ballads, the camera allows an illusion of intimacy that makes you forget this is all taking place on a football field. At roughly the movie’s midway point, Swift performs the new 10-minute version of her 2012 hit “All Too Well.” The song is a gloriously cascading litany of recriminations, rambling on and on in its uncut edition like the “American Pie” of breakup anthems. (Depending on how many beers I’ve had when I hear it, “All Too Well” sometimes surpasses “Brokeback Mountain” and “Zodiac” as the greatest thing Jake Gyllenhaal has ever been involved with.) Wrench keeps the camera circling tightly around Swift in harmony with the song’s aching vulnerability and ultimate catharsis. It’s a showstopper, and one of the few times you can tell a number has really been thought through as to how it can work cinematically, rather than just as a recording of a performance.
Swift has been the millennial Springsteen for some time, but this summer’s tour seems to have metastasized her fame beyond even Bruce’s “Born in the U.S.A.”-era ubiquity, to a point where Taylor going to a football game turns into a four-day news cycle. She’s dabbled in films before, most memorably premiering her Netflix documentary “Miss Americana” to a fawning crowd at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. (And I guess the world has agreed to forget she showed up in famous flops like “Cats” and David O. Russell’s better-than-its-reputation “Amsterdam.”) Could “The Eras Tour” help usher in a new age of concert movies? Beyoncé signed a similar deal with AMC Theatres to release a film of her recent “Renaissance” tour in December, and this season’s surprise arthouse hit has been A24’s re-release of “Stop Making Sense.” Director Jonathan Demme’s seminal 1984 Talking Heads movie has grossed more than $4 million so far, largely from audiences that weren’t born yet when the band broke up.
This is a great thing for movie theaters, which should be places of communal celebration. It’s also a way to share the thrill of live music with audiences who can’t afford the increasingly obscene price of concert tickets. (I probably would have tried to see Swift this summer if Springsteen hadn’t wiped out my bank account with his TD Garden show in March.) Back in 2004, I remember driving out to the Solomon Pond Mall to watch a live simulcast of Prince’s “Musicology” tour kickoff and wondering why artists didn’t do stuff like this more often. “The Eras Tour” debuted as the highest grossing concert movie in history, dethroning “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never.” If for that alone, we should be grateful.
Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour” is now in theaters.
Sean Burns Film Critic
Sean Burns is a film critic for The ARTery.
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