So Barbenheimer was the big ticket of 2023, not some spandex-suited meta-human fighting an overblown CGI battle in the Big Apple. Just as the bean counters seem to have figured out what draws audiences to theatres (good luck with that), comes the mass hysteria of the screening of Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour.
The film is directed by Sam Wrench, who has helmed other concert movies including Billie Eilish: Live at the O2 earlier this year and Lizzo: Live in Concert (2022). The film documents Swift’s The Eras Tour, her sixth concert tour and represents Swift’s musical journey over 10 acts.
Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour is path-breaking in many ways. After failing to reach an agreement with studios, Swift directly went to the theatres and signed an agreement with them.
Her announcement of the movie led to the studios scrambling to reschedule their releases. There was an Exorswift (yes it does not have the ring of Barbenheimer), which brought the release date of The Exorcist: Believer forward from its multi-million-dollar campaign ready date of Friday the 13th in October.
All the pundits hold the concert movie as the new gold standard for the communal theatre going experience, and it well might be. In India, there have been limited screenings of Korean boy band’s BTS’ concert movies, which generates a kind of passion that willy-nilly sweeps one along whether one is a fan or not.
The rock concert movie gives the fan a concert experience in a theatre. Some might even say a better-than concert experience — come on are you going to say no to a 360-degree view, crisp edits, tight close ups, intimate behind the scenes sequences, good, comfortable seats, air conditioning and clean toilets?
There is an urban legend about the screening of Woodstock (1970), the Academy Award winning documentary about the iconic counter-culture festival, which counts Thelma Schoonmaker and Martin Scorsese among its editors.
The story goes that during the morning screenings (don’t ask) of the documentary in beloved theatres in Bengaluru and Hyderabad and probably elsewhere in India, the air was thick with the smell of love, peace, music and a certain herbal something.
Mr. Scorsese, whose historical romance Killers of the Flower Moon had its limited run release cancelled in the wake of the Swiftian juggernaut, has a long and distinguished connection with music documentaries. There is the elegant, elegiac The Last Waltz (1978) of The Band’s farewell concert with guest performers including Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Neil Diamond, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Ringo Starr, and Neil Young.
This was also 2005’s Bob Dylan documentary No Direction Home, Shine a Light in 2008, on the Rolling Stones, on The Beatle, George Harrison: Living in the Material World (2011) and Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese (2019), which was more psychedelic ride than a story.
Going to a rock concert with the attendant headbanging, air guitaring with the leads and extreme tee shirts is an experience that true-blue rockers swear by. A concert film is the next best thing. And a film of a concert in the theatres is an even better option .None of us will have the joy of watching angst–ridden Pink build the wall brick by brick in tune with ‘Goodbye Blue Skies’ or ‘Comfortably Numb’.
It would be fun however to watch either Alan Parker’s movie version of the album, Pink Floyd – The Wall (1982), with Bob Geldof playing Pink and those weird surreal animation sequences of marching hammers and risqué flowers by Gerald Scarfe or The Wall – Live in Berlin with Sinéad O’Connor’s heart breaking rendition of ‘Mother’ on the big screen in Surround Sound.
Another concert movie, which will be gorgeous on the big screen would be Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii. The 1972 film by Adrian Maben, features the painfully young Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Richard Wright and Nick Mason performing psychedelic rock classics including ‘Echoes’ ‘Careful with That Axe, Eugene’, ‘A Saucerful of Secrets’, and ‘Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun’ at the eerily empty ancient amphitheatre in Pompeii. The dreamlike shots of a city frozen in time by the ashes of the Vesuvius adds to the other-wordly vibe.
There is also 1976’s The Song Remains the Same, featuring Led Zepplin’s three-nights of concerts at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Billed as a “personal and private tour of Led Zeppelin” the film is directed by Peter Clifton and Joe Massot. If you can disregard all that Arthurian/Lord of the Rings costume drama, there is great music and performances in the film.
Fragile nature of life
From Jimmy Page shredding the double necked guitar—please ignore the sparkling, sequinned black bell bottoms to Robert Plant letting it rip on ‘Immigrant Song’, blue, puff-sleeved shirt and all. And if you first heard “From the midnight sun where the hot springs flow” and that primordial scream in Thor Ragnarok you have a singular treat coming.
It was heartbreaking to watch Michael Jackson’s This Is It (2009) in theatres, as the King of Pop softly cajoles his team to “do it with love” in preparation for his big comeback at the O2 arena.
Listening to Jackson rehearsing ‘Wanna be Startin’ Somethin’’, with the knowledge that the tour was not meant to be owing to his passing less than 20 days before the concert on June 25, underlines the fragility and fleeting nature of life.
The massive success of Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour might signal a renewed interest in watching concert films as a communal experience in theatres.
Instead of blankets and beer, let us all head to the theatres with popcorn and sweet, sticky drinks for a stadium-level experience with Ms Swift. The song remains the same only the way we consume it changes.