I heard there was a movie called Fire of Love, and thought it sounded like the title of a flick that would have been playing in a seedy part of downtown in the ‘70s. Finding out it was a documentary about a volcanologist couple (no, that’s not people obsessed with Leonard Nimoy, but people who study volcanoes). I was even more excited when I heard that Miranda July was involved (I was a huge fan of her first two movies, but disappointed with her last one).
I headed to the Angelika Film Center, because even though I was sent a screener of the film, I felt like seeing lava spewing down a mountain would look better on a big screen. I was right about that. The footage was astounding. And watching plumes of smoke and ash, and learning of the “volcano bombs” – which I remembered hearing about killing people on boats near a volcano in Hawaii years ago – makes it both beautiful and dangerous. So when we meet the French couple Katia and Maurice Krafft (which we’re told early on die at a volcano) – we’re wondering if this is going to be another Grizzly Man (the terrific Warner Herzog documentary where the protagonist died feeding bears at the end). I also thought about the Crocodile Hunter, who was wonderful as he was as an ambassador for animals – I could never shake the images of him feeding a hungry croc while he had his young baby in his arms; or thinking about how he died swimming above a stingray that stabbed him. When people do stuff that’s dangerous, you wonder just how stupid they are. That could be a stormchaser who is killed driving into a tornado, or any number of things. Heck, even a few weeks ago, we heard about a guy who fell into Mt. Suvias taking a selfie! Look, it’s one thing when Benjamin Franklin is flying a kite in a lightning storm for educational reasons, and not knowing the dangers…yet when we watch the clips of the Kraffts talking about studying volcanoes, I’m left wondering: what is being accomplished for science? It’s surely left out of this documentary. Just watching her trap some of the gasses, or him getting some rock samples (as well as the countless photos and videos)...at what point is enough, enough? Were they adrenaline junkies? Were they thrill seekers looking for fame? Seeing them dancing in front of hot lava, with goofy hats…makes me wonder if it was all worth it. To them, it was. They said a few times that they wouldn’t mind dying in the process. Maurice even said his dream was to have a raft designed that could take him down a lava flow. And at one point in the movie, Katia is furious with him for taking a raft down an “acid river.”You watch that scene wondering if the boat is going to melt, or if he’s going to pull the oars up out of the water and they’ll be the size of toothpicks. Yes, this guy was a dope.
My wife and I both hated Tom Hanks narrating the Elvis movie with an annoying voice. We also both agreed that Miranda July sounded utterly ridiculous in this. She was rather flat and didn’t seem to express the type of excitement required on certain scenes. Other times she went for some poetic sounding lines that were goofy. It’s almost as if she and the director felt this couple was quirky, so they should create a quirky vibe with the narration. The writing didn’t help things, either.
The couple met and married in the late ‘60s, and they supported themselves writing and lecturing on volcanoes. Director Sara Dosa used a lot of the film footage they left behind, and gave us some amazing visuals. Yet why did I leave this movie not knowing any more about volcanoes than before I watched it? Why did I leave wondering why the director couldn’t get us to care more about this couple, or learn more about them?
Along with the beautiful and mesmerizing volcano footage, the soundtrack and songs worked well (I heard Brian Eno at one point). And seeing the couple in silhouette with lava behind them, made me think of footage of bands in the ‘60s playing shows at the Fillmore. Oh, and speaking of music, I would have liked to have heard Liz Phair’s “Supernova”. The great guitar riff and those lyrics, would’ve really conveyed the wacky love this couple had. The lyrics:
I have looked all over the place/But you have got my favorite face
Your eyelashes sparkle like gilded grass/And your lips are sweet and slippery
Like a cherub’s bare wet ass
“Cause you’re a human, supernova/A solar superman
You’re an angel with wings of fire
A flying, giant friction blast.
You walk in clouds of glitter/and the sun reflects your eyes
And every time the wind blows/I can smell you in the sky
Your kisses are as wicked as an F-16/And you f*** like a volcano
And you’re everything to me….
Liz Phair gets 5 stars. The documentary only gets 2.