The best concert movie of all time doesn’t cut away to show the audience at all. Stop Making Sense, Jonathan Demme’s 1984 documentary about new wave legends Talking Heads, simply films the band onstage — no tricks, no complicated camera gymnastics. “Hi. I got a tape I want to play,” David Byrne tells the audience as he strolls out in his iconic giant suit. For 90 minutes, he and his band play to a silent crowd we never see onscreen. Stop Making Sense is praised by film nerds and music geeks alike for its singular ability to make you feel like you’re there at the show, capturing Byrne’s frenetic energy just as you’d witness it from a really, really good seat.
Stop Making Sense is a great movie, but it’s also a lonely movie. Watching a concert film with no crowd cutaways lets you see the whole performance without interruptions, I guess, but I buy tickets to concerts to get to dance in a room with people who love something as much as I do. The distraction of the crowd is the whole point. In the film, Byrne’s energy is rendered in full, but enjoying his performance without the feedback of the crowd feels deceitful.
Taylor Swift: Reputation Stadium Tour isn’t just full of incredible cutaways to the crowd. Swift’s Netflix special is a love letter to the audience at her shows, and to her fans in general. The special, filmed October 6 at Swift’s last US tour date in Arlington, Texas, is a masterful documentation of the magical energy at a pop show.
Swift didn’t come to my city for the Reputation tour — the closest show to me was the Arlington one, four hours away. Having just drained my concert funds following another pop artist around this summer, I couldn’t afford the cost of a ticket to Swift’s show. Since Arlington was the last stop of the US tour, some of Swift’s most devoted fans traveled from out of state (or out of country) to see her there, driving resale ticket prices sky high. And I certainly wasn’t the only Texan who wished to be there.
Not all fans can afford to go to shows, or live in cities where acts tour, but fans in the digital age have found ways to take care of each other and make sure that everyone can enjoy the thrill of a show. Through taking photographs (many of which are professional quality), taking videos of songs, and even streaming shows on Periscope (the biggest heroes of all), the lucky fans who are able to go to a performance share memories with their sisters who can’t make it. Phone cameras are so good now that the fan-shot videos often look like they’re professionally filmed, and the audio is good enough that you don’t feel like you missed too much by not being there.
Still, the fact that Swift decided to release a professionally shot film of her tour is incredible. With free reign over the whole AT&T Stadium, director Paul Dugdale is able to capture the massive scope of the production from every angle. For a lot of the show, he keeps a Stop Making Sense-esque medium close-up on Swift like the jumbo screens at concerts do, so you can see her facial expressions and watch the minutiae of her choreography. But sometimes he films from the tip-top nosebleeds of the stadium, making Swift and her dancers look like ants three stories below, and from the back of the floor, where Swift is dwarfed by the thousands of fans that stand in front of the camera. You could make the argument that the constant switching of POV is obtrusive, but if Dugdale just set up a camera right in front of the stage and let Swift dance in front of it, you wouldn’t get a full sense of how giant the stadium she’s playing in is.