Concert films and the space of the cinema

For those unfortunately unable to secure tickets to see their favourite singer perform live, concert films are the perfect answer, offering the concert experience from the comfort of your local cinema (or even your own sofa!) at a much more affordable price. Taylor Swift’s recent release of her Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour movie is a stark example of the genre’s popularity. Following her sold out Eras Tour, the release of this movie in cinemas worldwide was a welcome one for many fans who failed to secure tickets. Raking in an impressive $123 million worldwide on its opening weekend, Swift’s concert film proved to mirror the popularity of her physical tour.

However, with this popularity came controversy as fans transformed the space of the cinema into a concert in itself. This controversy brings forward an interesting question, to what extent is the space of the cinema appropriate for a concert film. The genre of concert films itself evidently toes the line between film and concert. Paradoxically it is both – it is, as the name suggests, a film of a concert. But the melding of these two medias creates confusion regarding the appropriate audience response – do you cheer and sing as if at a concert? Or do you watch passively, as expected when watching a film in a cinema?

It is this question of what we can call ‘cinema decorum’ that has sparked controversy, creating a rift in Taylor Swift’s fanbase. While some fans were treating the film as if they were at the concert, moving towards the front of the cinema screen to dance and sing together, other fans took to X (formerly Twitter) to express their disappointment at the disruption. The common complaint amongst these fans was the fact that they were at a cinema, not at a concert, and should therefore act accordingly.

It is not the first time that the boundaries of the space of the cinema have been tested, with the #gentleminions trend of 2022 resulting in the banning of individuals from screenings of the film as well as the creation of separate screenings created specifically for those who wanted to take part in the trend. It is interesting to consider the action taken to prevent the disruption of Minions: Rise of Gru in comparison to the lack of action taken regarding the disruption of the concert film in question. It seems as though the concert film genre exists almost outside the bounds of typical film genres – it is not simply a film, and therefore isn’t responded to as such.

By classifying the genre as separate in this way arguments of typical ‘cinema decorum’ begin to fall flat. This can be troubling considering that, despite being a concert film, it is still existing within the space of the cinema. The space of the cinema is well-established and as a result there is a universally agreed upon, unspoken way of behaving within it. A deviation from this agreed upon behaviour is therefore jarring despite establishing a reason to explain the deviation in question. Perhaps the only way to overcome this is to divide showings of the film into a ‘concert’ experience and a ‘film’ experience, creating separate showings as cinemas did in the aforementioned #gentleminions trend. Or perhaps as primarily a film, being watched in a space where films are shown, it should be treated as such.

It is not that there are cinema-goers who are acting right or wrong in this instance. There are simply those who are enjoying something that was previously inaccessible to them by making it what it would’ve been: a concert, and therefore transforming the cinema into an arena for their pleasure. And there are those who, as they are in a cinema, experience the film purely as just that, a film. It is miraculous to see the extent to which a filmed concert can change how people perceive the space of the cinema, acting in ways that would generally not occur with any other films. 

 A cinema is, ultimately, just that – a cinema. And with this label there are certain established values as discussed. It is not an arena however hard one tries to transform it into one. It is not a concert, despite the ability to make it into your own. 

Featured Image: Tima Miroschnichenko on Pexels

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