‘Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour’ Film: An Immersive Front Row Seat to Swift’s Record-Breaking ‘Eras’ Concerts
Move over hyped blockbusters and movie franchises, here comes the “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour” film to demonstrate the power of a pop cultural phenomenon. This roaring chronicle of Taylor Swift’s record-breaking “The Eras Tour,” specifically the August 2023 performances at Los Angeles’ SoFi Stadium, is on track for a $125 million opening weekend. The world premiere screening that took over AMC’s entire Grove theater in Los Angeles on Wednesday night was a continuation of the Taylormania that has been sweeping the globe, with celebrity attendees, including Beyoncé, real flowers chosen by Swift, and the music titan herself mingling and personally greeting us and a couple thousand of her fans, friends, and industry insiders. Most of Swift’s devotees who will be attending over the weekend already know what to expect, and even attended one of “The Eras Tour” concerts, if they were lucky enough to snag a ticket. Now, they just need to bask in the aura of their favorite artist on the big screen, along with every Swiftie that did not get the chance to witness “The Eras Tour” live. For the curious outsider who may fleetingly know Swift’s unavoidable presence and a handful of her hits, what “The Eras Tour” offers is a spectacular taste of the scale, artistry and sheer musical joy of the experience. It also serves as the ultimate crash course in the basics of Swift’s musicverse.
Taylor Swift didn’t even need a traditional movie studio. She simply partnered with AMC Theaters as distributors. Like many music titans, she finds various ways to make history. There was no better tour to film for a theatrical release considering “The Eras Tour” is true to its title in covering 17 years of Swift’s catalog and various evolutions. When pausing to chat with the audience during the “Evermore” era section, Swift shares how she defiantly proposed a three-hour concert spanning her career thus far. Director Sam Wrench has been tasked with delivering what amounts to an energetically-shot chronicle of the SoFi Stadium performances. This is not a documentary with added interviews or insights, this is a massive concert experience on a massive screen. If you missed the live shows on the first leg of Swift’s “The Eras Tour,” this is as close as you can get with Wrench’s camera taking you not just to the front row, but onto the stage. For 2 hours and 45 minutes, with a Dolby sound mix that rattles one’s seat, the viewer is transported into both the exhilaration of the tour’s design and what makes Swift’s music so easily connectable. There’s no plot of course, though there are plenty of stories to tell. That’s a major component to Swift’s astounding success. While gliding through genres, from country to pop, and anything else she desires, Swift taps into that most essential component of songwriting. She tells good stories, many veiled nods at her own life, that audiences love to hear over and over.
In a live sense, Swift’s team on tour was already staging high drama every night. There’s a cinematic edge to the LED screen visions and props, some taking on the form of psychological landscapes or folk tales that represent her eras. Wrench and cinematographer Brett Turnbull combine a classic concert film format with added stylistic flourishes, using drones and steady cam to enhance moments. The editing also has a particular, feverish rhythm. On a big screen the effect can be overwhelming in the best way. Is it a complete chronicle? Concert films rarely can be and fans should know five songs from the L.A. stop didn’t make the cut: “No Body, No Crime” with Haim, “Long Live” from the “Speak Now” era, “Wildest Dreams” from “1989,” “The Archer” from “Lover” and “Cardigan” from “Folklore.” For the film, “Our Song,” from Swift’s teen debut, and “You’re on Your Own, Kid,” from “Midnights,” are the featured numbers in the surprise acoustic sets. But Swifties won’t mind, as the rest is so immensely fun to dive into.
Staying true to the tour’s format, the eras are not necessarily in chronological order, with the show kicking off with selections from “Lover” on all cylinders. Swift belts “Cruel Summer” in front of crimson clouds and then gets slyly theatrical with “The Man,” putting on a business suit while her backup dancers become typists in a corporate office. Some songs are staged as genuine drama. For “Tolerate It,” Swift and a dancer share a long dinner table on which the singer crawls across to confront her closed off lover. “Willow” takes on the mystical look of a fairy tale gathering in the woods. The “Red” era section barrels in with a “22” performed by Swift dressed more like a cool high schooler in full party mode. During “Folklore,” Swift stays around a faux cabin that feels rustic and dreamy while her performance of “The Last Great American Dynasty” has whiffs of nostalgia. With the camera up close, it’s easier to grasp Swift’s charisma. She knows just when to wink and nod, as if she’s your bestie sharing a moment with whomever catches her eye line. The intimate combines with the grand. While crooning “Champagne Problems” behind the piano, she banters about writing songs during the pandemic with sincere friendliness. Later, when the “Reputation” era arrives, “…Ready For It?” turns the ambiance dark and heavy, with Swift putting on black and red gear fit for an action movie villain. A giant CGI cobra seems to grip the entire stage from the vantage point of Wrench’s drone shot.
She can be the lovable girl next door and the vengeful, betrayed girlfriend. Still, Swift’s power is in the intimacy she maintains while creating a grand and easily accessible world of stories. Her fans adore every color-coded era and expression of heartbreak, while uncovering each record’s Easter eggs, much like the way Marvel fanatics connect all MCU movies and TV shows. The lyrics are stark when she proclaims, “what a shame she’s fucked in the head,” as her fans sing along. For “August,” Swift transitions to a flowing wardrobe and wanders around fireflies. Enduring popular culture gives shape to both an audience’s dreams and reality. “Vigilante Shit” takes on a dark cabaret ambiance, with Swift teasing us along with her dancers from a set of chairs, but the lyrics are a deliciously angry, feminist statement on the right to flaunt yourself to get even. On film, the music and delivery can become even more potent because we are able to witness the concert from angles you don’t see in the stadium. It’s striking when Swift hits a particular section of the stage and cracks appear, as if she’s triggered an earthquake with her musical might. During the “1989” era songs, which you know include “Bad Blood” and “Shake It Off,” dancers wield golf clubs that glow like lightsabers, aiming them at an ex’s digital sports car. It’s fun to watch but surely cathartic as well for the fans who weep, sing along and gaze in awe whenever Wrench cuts to them.
Brush away all the spectacle and Swift’s music and personality appeal because we feel these songs all have a hint of autobiography. They encompass a world of women demanding the right to be respected on the same level as the guys, broken teenage hearts and the wiser musings of a 33-year-old artist still trying to figure out true love. Some artists run out of things to say. Swift sounds like she’ll always have material because the main source is life, love and champagne problems. Package it with stellar production in both music and stage presentation and how can it not be infectious? She’s hitting five continents and conquering the world like Alexander the Great. Wherever “The Eras Tour” lands the local economy booms. And, even as she sweeps the world, Swift still takes time to keep doing things her way, reclaiming her masters and re-releasing her catalog in new and exciting “Taylor’s Version” editions. At the Los Angeles premiere, Swift told the audience, “This experience that I’ve had on this tour, what you’ll see that we captured, is the most fun I’ve ever had in my life. I can’t believe music is my career. That’s crazy. I’ve always had fun doing this but you guys made this tour what it was and is.” Even while conquering the world, Swift makes her fans feel like they are right there next to her. Rarely do we get such a cultural phenomenon, “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour” film gives you a proper front row seat.
“Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour” releases Oct. 12 in theaters nationwide.