Under the Volcano
There are only so many documentaries about legendary rock musicians that can be watched before one has had enough. Under the Volcano, a tiresome and mostly self-indulgent film about George Martin’s record label AIR Studios, represents the tipping point.
Utilising a string of breezy interviews with “Very Important People” from the 80s across the music industry – including Sting, Verdine White and Mark Knopfler – as well as never-before-seen footage of their time recording instant classics on the island of Montserrat, Gracie Otto’s film undoubtedly does its job as a cinematic reflection of history.
The struggle to engage with the feature comes from its utter straightforwardness. It’s the sort of story that only really resonates with those who were there, as there’s not much in the music itself that suggests the significance of the unique recording studio location on a Caribbean island that operates under the shadow of an active volcano. That’s unless somebody can somehow recontextualise Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder’s infamous Ebony and Ivory, one of many hits recorded at AIR Studios, to reflect these details. The result is a fairly humdrum viewing experience.
It doesn’t help that the feature is polluted by the stench of colonisation and there are some truly tragic details unveiled towards the end of the piece that exacerbate its significance. Once viewers approach the final stretch of the surprisingly boring journey that celebrates the making of seminal music from the likes of The Police and Elton John, they learn how nearly all of Montserrat’s residents (around 11,000 citizens) were forced to evacuate the island when the volcano started to erupt in 1995. 19 people were killed during this horrible time. Whilst it’s plainly obvious why the film would focus on a group of rich artists who could hop on and off the island for their own pleasure and are now left mourning its embers (it remains as a ruin in an inaccessible area of the island), it’s the loss of all these lives and homes that emerges as the real story here.
Under the Volcano is released digitally on demand on 26th July 2021.
Watch the trailer for Under the Volcano here: