Monday, July 15, 2024

Movie Review: ‘Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour’ is Universally Intimate


Director: Sam Wrench
Stars: Taylor Swift, Amanda Balen, Taylor Banks

Synopsis: Experience the breathtaking Eras Tour concert, performed by the one and only Taylor Swift.


Universally intimate. Those are the words I use to describe Taylor’s music. I am reminded of her best lyrics – lyrics which share specific moments of life that paint a vivid picture of lives lived. Taylor Swift writes songs that are a mosaic of moments we all can relate to – but each moment is uniquely specific as if it were being shared by a best friend. It’s universal, and it’s intimate.

What Era’s tour concert Film manages to do is celebrate the impact each of these songs has had on the lives of the listener. Taylor Swift has been a pop culture icon for 15 years, and for most, at least one of her songs has left a lasting impression on our memories. Whether it’s “Love Story” or “Teardrops on my Guitar” or “Clean” or “Exile,” or “All Too Well.” Every era has connected with someone, and Eras tour manages to create an environment where every audience member is transported to a world where they can share in that universally intimate moment. There are performance pieces that infuse new meaning into older songs (such as the elegantly bittersweet performance of “Tolerate It”), and other songs are hype songs begging the audience to move from passive observation into active dance. Red and 1989 are the best examples of that active call into dance, and the energy that fills a theater is unlike anything else this side of Avengers Endgame. It’s an electric experience, being a part of an audience that gets transported away from a multiplex in a small town with no hope of ever seeing Taylor Swift in concert to front row seats at SoFi Stadium. 

The transportive effect of The Eras Concert Film is due in large part to the impeccable recording quality of the show. I made an effort to look for the cameras, and throughout the nearly three hour film, I only saw cameras 3 times. It’s magical, the almost perfection achieved by a crew that is purposefully invisible. Watching Eras doesn’t feel like watching a movie or a live recording; it feels like being there at SoFi stadium, surrounded by the noise of a crowd of over 100,000 people. So much of this can only come from the theater experience; with crystal clear sound reverberating off the walls, and a massive screen that floods your vision completely. Taylor goes from pop-star queen to goddess in the theater. The audio tracks are mastered to place the audience in the back of the theater, so cheering and getting into the music doesn’t feel out of place, while letting the music production and Taylor’s beautiful vocal work be front and center, using every speaker to its maximum effect.  

And Taylor is the main attraction of Eras. Her performance is controlled and powerful, and her stage presence demands the attention of the audience. This is a three-hour performance, and Taylor’s vocal (and physical) endurance is on full display. Empowering Taylor are the changing costumes and production design that shifts with each era.

The production design changes with each era, and where these transitions may have taken minutes in real time, through the medium of film, it’s instantaneous. One set ends as the next begins, and the anticipation for each set is palpable. 

All of these components mark Eras as a competent, and potentially great, concert film. But that isn’t the true magic of Eras – the true magic is found in the recontextualization of her music. I’ve already mentioned the jaw-dropping “Tolerate It” set piece, but it isn’t the only piece that utilizes the set to its fullest potential. “The Man”, “Betty,” “Look What You Made Me Do,” and “Vigilante Shit” are just a few songs that became truly transcendent on film. These songs have varying energies, but on a massive stage with a moving set and pitch perfect camera-work, these songs become all encompassing, begging the audience to look on in awe and burn this moment into their memories. Like many others on Twitter, I didn’t love “Vigilante Shit” on Midnight’s release day. It’s a fun throwback to the sonic palette of Reputation, but it doesn’t fit into the vibe of the rest of the album. Only through seeing it performed live, does one truly understand the vision that Taylor Swift has for the song. 

And yet, the most impactful moment in the concert for me isn’t in those songs with bombastic choreography and impressive sets. For me, the most impactful moment was when Taylor Swift asked the audience if they had ten minutes to spare. “All Too Well” may very well be my favorite Taylor Swift song. It may be composed of a simple four chord progression in the key of C major. It may not have the excellent production of Jack Antinoff. In its simplicity, “All Too Well” allows for one thing – the only thing that matters –  to shine through: Taylor Swift’s universally intimate storytelling. 

I’ve loved the song since it first came out. Every part of the song is burned into my mind, Taylor’s vocal timbre, the distorted swell of the electric guitar, and the snare drum that lingers every time it’s hit. That original CD, released by Big Machine Records, was played hundreds of times, just so I could skip to “All Too Well.” 

“All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (Taylor’s Version)” didn’t connect with me when I listened to it last year. At first, I thought it was a headphone issue – I wasn’t using my beautiful Sony WH1000-XM3’s. But when I listened to it again, I just couldn’t connect with it the same way as I always had. It wasn’t the expansion I had hoped for. Its guitar wasn’t as clear as in the original recording, and Taylor’s voice has changed throughout the years, making a record that was all about the naivety of love and innocence lost feel different. And of course, the snare didn’t linger anymore. I appreciated the ambition of Taylor re-releasing her music far more than I appreciated the actual re-recordings. They didn’t have the same emotional impact on me. Despite the more layered production, the additional verses, and that all new production, I found myself disengaged with the work. 

When I watched The Eras Tour movie, I was transported into a whole new world. I’ve made the joke that it was a religious experience with my siblings and friends… but the more I reflect on it, the more true that statement is. “All Too Well (10 Minute Version)” as featured in the film doesn’t feel less intimate than that original recording from 11 years ago, because despite the larger audience and the bigger production, every single eye is glued to Taylor’s impassioned singing and her powerful guitar playing. Through the medium of recorded live performance, when sitting in a room with 200 people, watching a performance played in front of 100,000, “All Too Well (10 Minute Version)” felt far more intimate than it ever had in my headphones playing in the dark of night. 
Era’s Tour is a massive achievement for Taylor Swift, and is a film that every swiftie – nay, every individual who considers themselves even slightly intrigued by her music – should be watching in cinemas. The three hours fly by in an atmosphere buzzing with excitement. It’s an extremely high quality production accessible to far more people than the concert was, at a fraction of the cost. And while some songs were cut from the live performances for the film, it flows together perfectly and makes for the biggest movie event of the year. 

Grade: A+

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