Liam Hanlon checks out Alan Moloney’s film about a grimy warehouse in a corner of Dublin’s docklands that became a mecca for music and the arts.
Initially set up against a grey and lifeless backdrop of 1970s Ireland and its economic stagnation, Windmill Lane is a documentary that explores how a site in Dublin’s neglected docklands bore a facility and landmark that assisted in supporting Irish music, Irish jobs, and Irish pride. Director Alan Moloney has approached Windmill Lane with a traditional documentary format in mind and he has a story to tell with archival footage and voices from pieces-to-camera as its storytellers.
The documentary begins by examining Ireland in the 1970s. Unemployment was rife and emigration was withdrawing Ireland’s brightest sparks from the country. As Alan Moloney mentioned during Windmill Lane’s premiere at the Dublin International Film Festival, Ireland was “looking over the wall” at countries like the UK to see how life was there. Culturally, London had an energetic cultural and artistic explosion throughout the 1970s and Ireland was still strictly-monitored by both state and church. Moloney then decides to offer the viewer a prosperous view of Ireland’s future cultural scene with the origins of Windmill Lane Studios and the cultural and economic implications it subsequently had for Ireland.
Windmill Lane focuses on three particular people – James Morris, Russ Russell, and Meiert Avis. All three individuals had histories in other countries, yet grew up in Ireland and decided to invest in a recording studio, initially to specialise in creating Irish television adverts, but also for artists to record there with studio engineer Brian Masterson at the helm. We see how they went from recording adverts for Irish companies with Irish staff to then using the studios to record new albums for Irish artists such as Planxty, and at the suggestion of Paul McGuinness, a promising Irish band from the northside of Dublin called U2.
The documentary then continues this sense of Irish artistic and economic prosperity by exploring how U2’s successful rise to international fame correlated with that of Windmill Lane’s. U2’s early albums were recorded at Windmill Lane, as well as their music videos, and they used the dockland environs as a backdrop of their initial iconography. With a band like U2 and Dublin’s docklands, the area grew to acquire a cult status but also gained recognition for Dublin as a burgeoning cultural hotspot. If you are averse to U2, it’s important to note that this documentary is not a U2 story; they simply are a facet of Windmill Lane’s history. Windmill Lane’s success as a music and media business meant they could diversify and expand. Individuals such as Meiert Avis went on to utilise Windmill Lane’s resources to become a renowned music video director for U2 and other artists, including Bruce Springsteen.
Irish eyes were smiling with Windmill Lane’s success but then the documentary explores how the business diversifying impacted the future of Windmill Lane and the individuals involved in its creation. James Morris assisted in spearheading a new Irish free-to-air television channel TV3, and with that, tensions within the Windmill Lane collective heightened. Debts began to pile up and friendships were suffering. Moloney manages to grab your attention throughout all of these changes and a lighthearted story turns into a serious affair and he creates a seamless tonal balance.
Windmill Lane captures the rise and falls and concludes by exploring the dynamic between Russ Russell and James Morris. It’s a complete narrative with many twists and turns and it’s utterly captivating. You will smile, laugh, and shed a tear. Every storyteller here (including industry figureheads such as The Edge, Adam Clayton, Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott, producer Steve Lillywhite) conveys genuine affection for Windmill Lane Studios and all the people who made it possible to creatively dream and achieve.
Berlin has Hansa Studios; New York has Electric Lady Studios; London has Abbey Road Studios. Dublin has Windmill Lane with a history and a legacy Ireland should be proud of. With Windmill Lane, Alan Moloney has created something special here to remind us of that.
Windmill Lane screened on 7th March as part of the 2020 Dublin International Film Festival.