Truth and Movies

Folklore: The Long Pond Studio Sessions

Review by Sydney Urbanek @sydurbanek

Directed by

Taylor Swift

Starring

Aaron Dessner Jack Antonoff Taylor Swift

Anticipation.

Taylor Swift’s feature directorial debut? I would like to see it.

Enjoyment.

“Betty” just isn’t the same without its “fuck”s.

In Retrospect.

Platform-related compromises aside, Swift is at her best when the focus is on the actual music.

Taylor Swift and her folklore collaborators perform and dissect the pandemic album at New York’s Long Pond Studios.

It’s been a decidedly cinematic year for Taylor Swift, whose 2020 has so far included the release of both Miss Americana and the concert film City of Lover, not to mention the most recent two in an uninterrupted streak of (so far) six self-directed music videos.

In July, Swift released her eighth studio album, ‘folklore’, recorded totally in secret alongside go-to collaborator Jack Antonoff, The National’s Aaron Dessner and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon. This month, she’s managed another surprise in the form of folklore: the long pond studio sessions (lower case Taylor’s choice), a concert-documentary hybrid in which the same crew performs the album live. Released Wednesday on Disney+ as part of an ongoing partnership between Swift and the media conglomerate, it’s her debut feature in the director’s chair.

The film moves between Swift, Antonoff, and Dessner as they explain the songs’ origins and play them at New York’s Long Pond Studios. Like many things this year, the bulk of folklore was assembled remotely, with the trio mailing each other files until it was time to be mixed. “I think it’s really important that we play it,” Swift says. “I think it will take that for me to realise that it’s a real album. Seems like a big mirage.” A bandana-masked Vernon joins them remotely around the 20-minute mark to perform “exile,” the album’s only duet.

While Miss Americana was chock-full of tabloid and personal drama, Swift has given herself the space in her own film to keep things strictly about the music; everything that comes up does so either to colour or elaborate on the work itself. Each of the trio is skilled at discussing their craft(s), and Swift and Antonoff are especially captivating in their one-on-one chats. Dessner, for his part, comes most alive in the studio.

Despite not physically appearing in the film, Joe Alwyn somehow has an even bigger presence in it than he did Miss Americana. Swift confirms that William Bowery, a mysterious figure credited as a co-writer on multiple songs from the album, was indeed Alwyn operating under a pseudonym. He’s apparently a talented pianist with a knack for both composing and songwriting, having written the first verse and “entire piano part” of ‘exile’ as well as the chorus of ‘betty’.

folklore the album was a massive flex of Swift’s power as an artist: it became her seventh consecutive number-one album, even in the absence of a traditional rollout. It was also her first to come with an explicit label – symbolic in its own way of a new chapter. With this in mind, Disney’s involvement in folklore the film feels stifling. There’s no doubt that Swift’s fans will flock to the platform, but she’s made a major artistic compromise in working with a company that insists on muting her ‘fucks’. This matters at several points during the album, but risks ruining the chorus of ‘betty’ in particular.

The film is nevertheless a triumphant debut from Taylor Swift the director (and, we predict, the first of many). What it lacks in technical seamlessness – filmed with a robotic camera, equipment appears in the frame at multiple points – it makes up for in musical adroitness and a coziness that’s very welcome as the season turns.

Published 26 Nov 2020

Tags: Folklore: The Long Pond Studio Sessions Taylor Swift

Anticipation.

Taylor Swift’s feature directorial debut? I would like to see it.

Enjoyment.

“Betty” just isn’t the same without its “fuck”s.

In Retrospect.

Platform-related compromises aside, Swift is at her best when the focus is on the actual music.

Suggested For You

Taylor Swift: Miss Americana – first look review

By Hannah Woodhead

One of the world’s biggest music artists bares her soul in this intimate, earnest docu-portrait.

10 lesser-known music docs you should watch

By Eve Watling

Seek out these great musical portraits, featuring David Bowie, Lil Wayne and Leonard Cohen.

Justin Timberlake + the Tennessee Kids

By Manuela Lazic

Jonathan Demme captures the full spectacle of the pop superstar in concert. The results are astonishing.

review LWLies Recommends

Little White Lies Logo

About Little White Lies

Little White Lies was established in 2005 as a bi-monthly print magazine committed to championing great movies and the talented people who make them. Combining cutting-edge design, illustration and journalism, we’ve been described as being “at the vanguard of the independent publishing movement.” Our reviews feature a unique tripartite ranking system that captures the different aspects of the movie-going experience. We believe in Truth & Movies.

Editorial

Design