Taylor Swift's 'Folklore' performance doc lives in the moment

Brad Keefe
Taylor Swift in "Folklore: The Long Pond Studio Sessions"

One of the highest praises often given to films is calling them “timeless.” It’s meant to indicate that a movie transcends the present moment, that it can be appreciated for decades.

I tend to bristle at this notion. The time and cultural backdrop of a release is always going to inform how it should be viewed. And many films that have received the “timeless” label have proven to be anything but as they’re revisited against the current day.

This year, it's been impossible to remove the concept of time when watching a release. For most viewers, the backdrop of isolation can't be ignored. Which is why I’m hard-pressed to be objective about Taylor Swift’s new Disney+ documentary/concert film, “Folklore: The Long Pond Studio Sessions.”

There’s no way to view this movie in any other moment in time, because this moment is why it exists in the first place.

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Further disclosure: In recent years I’ve gone from indifference/dislike to becoming a full-blown Swiftie. I’ll save the story of my Taylor Swift journey for another day, but this is a fan's, perspective as well.

The “Folklore” doc features the first live performance of Swift’s new album, written and recorded in isolation by all involved parties and surprise-released in late July. The album was a woodsy, indie-rock shift for the pop star, written and recorded in collaboration with Aaron Dessner of The National and longtime Swift collaborator Jack Antonoff of Bleachers.

They unite in person for the first time in a farmhouse-style recording studio in upstate New York — a setting befitting of album’s aesthetic — to reminisce about the writing and recording process and to perform the album live for the first time.

They talk (often gush) about how Swift reached out to Dessner as a fan of The National for an unlikely collaboration, about moments of creating each track, before performing it live in a cozy recording space that feels like a living room.

That’s it. That’s the movie.

The “Folklore” doc was produced and directed by Swift, shot with static digital cameras and a single rotating camera. The lighting, setting and vibe are all as warm and comfy as, well, a cardigan.

But for my concert-starved soul, what is typically closer to a studio “recording of” documentary truly feels like an intimate and private concert, even if the only audience is the performers themselves.

The highlight of the documentary is the performance of standout track “exile,” a gutting duet with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver. The song is a breakup mixtape Track 1, sung from the perspectives of both halves of an ended relationship. Vernon performs his vocals from his home in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, wearing a face covering that leaves him obscured. The effect is a wistful FaceTime call, a striking turn from the norm of duet singers looking each other deeply in the eye.

This movie will never be timeless. It’s deeply embedded in our moment, and that is exactly why it’s so meaningful.

“Folklore: The Long Pond Studio Sessions”

Now streaming on Disney+
4 stars out of 5