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Under the Volcano Documentary Film Review


Directed by: Gracie Otto

Starring: Sting, Mark Knopfler, Jimmy Buffet


Under the Volcano (2021) Film Review

Under the Volcano movie poster
Under the Volcano movie poster

Sir George Martin’s Caribbean recording studio was home to some of the most influential bands of all time. Set on the island of Montserrat, not only was AIR Studios surrounded by glorious nature and friendly locals, but also a dormant volcano. Over the course of a decade, the studio plays an important part in music history, bringing bands together for unthinkable reunions, transforming their music, and allowing a place to “calm down” (Sting’s words), all against the backdrop of a changing industry that was shifting towards mainstream TV and digital recordings.

Filmmaker Gracie Otto captures the harmony of a bygone time for recording artists, one where freedom and creativity were nurtured by Martin’s choice of an island tucked away from the rest of the world. Montserrat, at that time, was unspoiled by American cash and the locals care more about cricket than cacophony. So what better place for huge stars like Elton John, Paul McCartney, and The Rolling Stones to come, chill out by the pool, and perhaps record some of their best music? This harmony also extends to a frankly bizarre balance that existed from the rock-style lifestyle of these musicians and the humble lives of the locals, living in tin-roofed shacks.

As with a lot of music documentaries, Under the Volcano drifts into numerous reveries about the good ol’ days, and often becomes a love letter to the numerous bands who appear in the film itself. We are shown their recording days, and time at AIR Studios, but also their music videos and modern interviews that often dive into their own stories. These always seem to link back to the island, though, and a sense of mystical power seems to emanate from all these tales about Montserrat. Whereas a music documentary may attempt to tell the story of a band’s lifespan, or a particularly memorable show (Woodstock), Otto delivers something more unique and unshackled by a linear narrative.

Small tensions are introduced throughout the piece which gets the audience into a state of sombre reflection. The artistry and creativity on display on this magical island feels like a time capsule, a place when the focus was put on the artist and not the cogs of the machine. The introduction of MTV was a blessing for some bands, who hoped to take not just their music but their image global, but for a lot of musicians, it signalled the end of a purity in music which was being diluted by a completely different medium. Couple this with Phillips creating the compact disc (CD), which saw production costs plummet and gave a huge erection to the moneymakers behind the music, and the idyll of Montserrat seems to become more of a last hurrah to the analogue days of studio recording before the digital revolution took hold and caused an eruption of accessibility and monetisation.

Under The Volcano is available 26th July on digital, Blu-ray and DVD



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