As fan service and a bypass of the traditional Hollywood film distribution model, “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour” has done the trick.
Is this one of the great concert films in existence? No. At least one of the really good ones? Not exactly. But rarely has this point been this far off the mark.
It’s two hours and 48 minutes that people want to see live and want to see again in film form, or want to see Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour concert for the first time because they haven’t seen it in person.
The film combines performance footage from three separate Swift concerts held at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California, in August. The SoFi Stadium sign gets bigger each time, begging the question: Did any concertgoers take out a personal loan from SoFi bank to pay for those tickets?
Of course, moviegoers have it easier. I paid $22 for a showing at my local multiplex on Thursday at 6pm. Eleven of us were there. No one danced, but the ubiquitous screenings this weekend and beyond will surely tell a bigger story.
Directed with remarkable fluency by concert film veteran Sam Wrench, “The Eras Tour” gives you most, if not all, of the 3½-hour live concert experience. Several songs from Swift’s setlist did not make the final cut; these include “The Archer”, “Cardigan”, “Wildest Dreams” and “no body nocrims”.
Both live and on-screen, the Eras Tour brings together Swift’s 10-album, 17-year creative output, from irresistible tales of teenage love (the ninth-grade wonder “Our Song”) to a 10-minute version of one of her songs. the best, “All Too Well” and many other new expressions of everything. The price of fame. The accumulation of bad boyfriends and better ones. Heat-seeking revenge. A songwriter trying to keep his head up while the world beats wants He needs you, he cries for you. Close-ups of distraught and devastated fans shedding so many tears punctuate the footage of “The Eras Tour” that it’s like a river of adoration with no dam in sight.
Disclosure: I’ve lived the Taylor Swift life only occasionally, mostly near the car or the kitchen, when the lyrics to “Shake It Off” or “We Are Never Never Back Together” come by chance or by request. I love these songs with their high quality bubblegum hooks. Their place is firmly established in Swift’s many eras of pop, country, rock and folk reflections, as well as first-person heartache and triumph. She’s a magpie whose personality is ever-changing, and she’s spent most of her 33 years under increasingly brighter lights. His song “We Never Go Out of Style,” also irresistible, feels like he’s stating something that’s been obvious for years. If you never run out of styles, you can never go out of style.
Director Wrench has produced special concerts and films with Billie Eilish, Lizzo, Brandi Carlile and many more. He is not one to frame his subjects in surprising ways or cut through a meticulously maintained aura. The struggle here with the borderline ridiculous size of the physical/digital/sonic live show boils down to this: How to give the audience the feeling that you are there, but in a better way?
In a musical production this visually overwhelming, with dancing, floating video footage working overtime, I could have used a less impatient editing rhythm without giving too many cutaways to fans on the verge of enthusiastic collapse. (Dom Whitworth led a six-man editing team.)
But even if “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour” represents a triumph of novel distribution rather than a triumph of the concert film form, its impact will be stunning on the charts. Swift is credited as producer. AMC Theaters struck a deal with the Swift empire to distribute the film directly, thus eclipsing the traditional Hollywood distribution model. This is a very good deal for the multiplex chain that has more lives than a cat.
AMC will also distribute the concert film “Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé” on December 1. And the industry turmoil continues, as does the rhythm.
“Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour” — 2.5 stars (out of 4)
MPA rating: PG-13 (for some strong language and suggestive material)
Running time: 2:48
How to watch: In theaters now.
Michael Phillips is a Tribune critic.