While Bruce Springsteen holds a singular place in my heart, the music of Taylor Swift is not far behind. At the same time, Swift the person isn’t someone I’m as well-versed on, so this year’s peeks behind the curtain have been fairly revelatory. Miss Americana earlier on 2020 showcased Swift taking back the narrative about who she is, under the direction of documentarian Lana Wilson (who we interviewed here). Now, with Folklore: The Long Pond Studio Sessions, Swift is able to have the whole say, directing this concert film of sorts. It’s an intimate and engaging look at what she thinks about when she’s making music. Plus, if you’re even remotely a fan of her latest album, these are some incredible versions of the songs held within.
Folklore: The Long Pond Studio Sessions is a doc centered on Swift in control of her art. Much in the same way her surprise new album folklore over the summer was her stripped of any influences, here she can just be. In the same manner as the album brought out some of her very best work, this too shows her with tons of promise not just as an artist, but as a filmmaker, as well.
Obviously, quarantine looms large here. Swift depicts how she recorded folklore in her home, as well as how she gathered with a very select group to record these songs live for the documentary. There’s even a virtual duet, much like how it was presumably initially recorded. They never call extra attention to it, but the album, as well as the doc, are clearly products of our current COVID times.
The documentary takes place at the Hudson Valley, New York studio that gives the film its name. The doc depicts Taylor Swift, along with Jack Antonoff and Aaron Dessner, playing all seventeen of the songs, in order, from her album folklore. In between, Swift discusses with Antonoff and/or Dessner, how the tunes came to be. Through it all, the low-key vibe of the album, which is one of Swift’s most entrancing, is given life on the screen.
The songs showcase Swift (plus Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon, remotely joining her for exile) playing with a stripped down song that very much suits her. The appropriate passion is on display, though you also see the joy she has in making this music. Swift has long collaborated with Antonoff (lead singer of Bleachers, in addition to being a record producer), while this is her first time working with Dessner, one of the members of the band The National. Their interactions have an easy nature to them, also showing off how enjoyable it is for people previously in quarantine to be able to interact with others, doing what they love.
Taylor Swift directs as well as stars here, and it’s more evidence that she can be a director if she wants to be. Watch a music video she’s helmed and you see a sense of pacing not all directors have. Here, it’s more of that same confidence, albeit in a stripped down manner. She’s in complete command of her craft, and a feeling that this is what being an artist actually entails permeates from her throughout. Plus, her style, befitting the album, is incredibly calm, allowing you to be mellow and just let the movie waft over you. Folklore: The Long Pond Studio Sessions is intended to be a comforting experience, and it sure is.
Folklore: The Long Pond Studio Sessions is made for fans, but it serves as a calling card in general for Swift. Disney+ has a little gem on their hands here. If you love Swift, you’re almost certainly well aware of this concert film/documentary, but if you somehow aren’t, it’s a must see. However, even if you don’t generally like her, this is a new kind of music from her, as well as a compelling directorial effort. That separates the doc and makes it more than just a curiosity. This is a quality movie, with terrific music, plain and simple.