Villi Knudson may be the Steve Zissou of Icelandic volcanoes.
Hidden on the back quarters of a house on one of Reykjavik’s many hills sits a bright red oversized garage known as the Red Rock Cinema. Inside, a man by the name of Villi Knudson has spent years showing just one movie, albeit in three languages depending on the day.
To be honest, the whole experience feels a little like visiting a reincarnated polar explorer-cum-shaman when you may have intended to find David Attenborough. Nonetheless, geologists and the public alike have developed a tender spot for Knudson who, along with his father before him, have made it a family mission to document every single volcanic eruption in Iceland since 1947. The footage the two men have captured over the years has been strung into the movie visitors see today, which is only screened here, inside Knudson’s cutting room-slash-theater.
Shown in two parts, the film is known simply as “The Volcano Show.”
Visitors are free to stay for just the first or both parts (though good luck slinking out of the theater as Knudson himself switches between reels). Part One is a survey of all the major eruptions since 1947. Let’s be clear: Iceland is an extremely tectonically active place, so we’re talking a lot of eruptions here. Mount Hekla gets great, grainy coverage thanks to her eruptions in 1948, 1970, 1980, 1981, 1991 and 2000, while the three-year Surtsey blast from 1963 to 1967 competes with Lake Myvatn’s 1975 and 1984 eruptions for screen time, not to mention many, many other blasts taking place all over the country.
Part Two focuses like a laser on Heimaey’s 1973 eurption that threatened to bury a town in the most powerful volcanic eruption of the last century. Villagers are shown evacuating in dramatic fashion, saving the harbor, and checks in on the village as it’s seen today.
Knudson also had the stroke of brilliance to score the film with a sort of super-psychedelic soundtrack that makes for a mystically disorienting experience perfectly befitting an hour or so spent staring deep into roiling cauldrons of magma, bouncing and jerking in the 20th-century’s finest, grainy technicolor film. Adding to the mystique is the presence of Knudson himself presenting the film before your very eyes, ready to answer questions about the time he killed the engines in a helicopter above an erupting volcano not once but twice.
The Volcano Show screens throughout the year, and offers compelling insights into the awesome forces of nature on what is undoubtedly one of Earth’s most unique islands. Knudson presents in English, German, and French, to crowds that range from lone individuals to a few dozen attendees. Every seat inside the theater is cherry red, matching the building’s exterior, and it makes no difference to him the size of the crowd.
Know Before You Go
Screenings in English 11am, 3pm & 8pm daily, in German 6pm daily, in French 1pm Sat Jul & Aug, in English 3pm & 8pm daily Sep & Apr-Jun, 8pm Oct-Mar