Taylor Swift’s concert tour juggernaut never made it to Wisconsin this year, but fans will get a chance to take in the next-best thing with the opening of the film version this weekend.
The film opened Thursday, a day early, to accommodate demand.
After a successful first leg of the live tour, fans may wonder how the recordings of her shows in Los Angeles — which make up the filmed version playing in theaters across North America — will translate onto the big screen.
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Jeremy Morris is a professor in media and cultural studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who studies how digital technologies are affecting the music industry. He said concert films are neither better nor worse than live performances, but rather different.
“I think there is that kind of gut reaction to sort of look down on these other ways of presenting concerts,” Morris said. “But it provides a different experience that some people can really enjoy and latch onto.”
Since The Eras Tour began in March, Swift’s social and economic dominance has been felt around the world. The tour was extended to venues in a total of five continents to meet high demand.
Pollstar estimates the tour sales will likely surpass the $1 billion mark next March, the one-year anniversary of the tour. If so, it will become the biggest in music history, eclipsing Elton John’s multi-year farewell tour.
Theater chain Cinemark and AMC Theaters have both set record-breaking ticket sales. The latter cooperation said last week it sold more than $100 million in advance tickets globally.
Morris said the inaccessibility and the expense of concerts leaves an untapped audience. Swift did not perform in Wisconsin and the average ticket price for her shows is more than $250.
He said one advantage to live events is the atmosphere.
“Even though they’re not having necessarily the best visual experience of the show, they may still feel extremely connected to the artist and extremely connected to the moment,” Morris said.
Abbie Esterline is the programming coordinator at Milwaukee Film and the office “Swiftie.” She saw Taylor Swift perform in Chicago and Detroit. She said when she saw the show live, she was overcome with emotion.
“Being surrounded by all these light-up bracelets and thousands upon thousands of people, that was just an unbelievable experience and something that I cannot imagine ever being duplicated,” Esterline said.
A different experience
Esterline also has tickets to see the movie, and she is looking forward to focusing on the content alone.
“The film is going to provide really great up close and personal view of the show. Obviously, you can’t get much closer than a camera on stage.”
Morris said film is a different medium and therefore can tell a different story and that will depend on cinematography.
“It’s drawing on these techniques of film, of television, of other kinds of media that are different than what the big show in the big arena has to look like,” Morris said.
Esterline is looking for a different kind of experience in the theater.
“It’s going to be really cool to notice the different elements you didn’t notice before. I’m excited to just kind of soak it all in on screen,” Esterline said.
The movie is playing at 20 Marcus Theaters and at least five AMC Theaters across the state. Adult tickets, excluding fees and add-ons, are $19.89, a nod to Swift’s birth year and the title of her fifth album.
Greg Marcus, the president and CEO of The Marcus Cooperation, which owns Marcus Theaters, said the atmosphere of the live concert will come across in the filmed version.
“We want people to have more of a concert-like environment where they take out their cell phone and they shoot pictures of their friends and they’re having a really good time, and they stand up and they sing and they jump,” Marcus said.
Morris said he can’t predict the atmosphere in theaters during opening weekend. He wondered if people will be singing and dancing like they do when they watch “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
Milwaukee Film, which operates the Oriental Theater, had a tradition of showing the Talking Heads concert film “Stop Making Sense” every year, and Esterline said the audience dances during that show. She said they are encouraging a similar atmosphere during showings of Swift’s film.
The Oriental Theater and Marcus Theaters are adding extra elements to expand programming beyond the film itself. There will be specialty cocktails and displays in the lobby where fans can take pictures.
Marcus Theaters will have friendship bracelet-making stations. Swift mentions “friendship bracelets” in the song “You’re on Your Own, Kid,” off her most recent album Midnights. This prompted fans to wear their own homemade bracelets and trade them among friends new and old at performances.
“Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” showed the potential of movie theaters. Marcus would share neither ticket sales statistics for Swift’s film nor compare those numbers to the summer blockbusters. But he said concert films are another example of how movie theaters are multipurpose.
“It’s starting to show the breadth of what we can do,” Marcus said.
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