The Wicker Man – Notes on a Cultural Behemoth: Chapter 10 Book Images
“The Wicker Man… has become something of a towering cult celluloid behemoth. This is particularly the case amongst all things on the flipside of folkloric, as well as within areas of culture that have come to be known as folk horror…
At its heart, The Wicker Man could be viewed as a mystery thriller, although in actuality it is a film which defies categorisation, mixing elements of fantasy, horror and musical.
Within its enclosed rural setting it intertwines folkloric practices, pagan rituals, reimagined and reinterpreted traditional and folk music, unfettered sexuality and an older religious faith in conflict with a more contemporary Christian belief system.
These elements, along with a background of its at-times troubled production and distribution, have come to create a heady mixture, which includes imagery and a soundtrack that have gained iconic status and the creation of an almost myth-like set of stories and reference points which surround it and that have reverberated throughout wider culture.”
“In 2013 a ’40th Anniversary’ – possibly misleadingly named – Final Cut of the film, running at 91 minutes, was released cinematically as well as on DVD and Blu-ray.
This was not a complete, cinematic quality version of the film but rather an intermediate director-approved version which, as with earlier restored versions, featured segments which had varying levels of reproduction due to original source materials not being available.
In one sense, the sections where the quality varies are appealing; the shift in quality can give these scenes a slightly surreal, almost parallel plains of 3D or cutout look, similar to the effect that viewing a faded set of images through a Viewmaster children’s toy might do.
It would be interesting to see the entire film represented in this manner, to step away from the ongoing quest for a picture perfect representation of the tales of The Wicker Man and to embrace its otherworldliness more overtly with regards to its visual presentation.”
“While waiting for an actual final complete version there have been an ever-proliferating number of re-releases of the film and its soundtrack that have been released on video tape, DVD, Blu-ray, CD and vinyl, alongside period and modern associated posters, trading cards, books, zines, magazine articles and so forth.
The resulting releases have become part of a whole not-so-mini industry that could keep industrious collectors busy but there are a few related items of particular interest.
One is Willow’s Songs: an album released in 2009 by unearthers of rare and sometimes previously lost recordings Finders Keepers Records and which aims to showcase the British folk songs that inspired the soundtrack to The Wicker Man…
Its lyrics tell a tale of agricultural dispossession and intriguingly it is not credited to a performer on the album, which in these times of instant knowledge about almost everything via online searches adds a certain appealing mystique that this author is loath to puncture.”
“One of the curious things with The Wicker Man soundtrack (and indeed the film itself ) is that this is a case of where something authentic has been created from an inauthentic or commercially-orientated premise.
The soundtrack has come to feel as though it features songs which have belonged to these isles for centuries: ones which are deeply rooted in the land, its folklore and history, when in fact a number of them were written and all were recorded especially for the film.”
“Finders Keepers Records also reissued Ritual in 2011, which is the 1967 book by David Pinner, the basic idea and structure of which was in part the inspiration for what became The Wicker Man after David Pinner sold the film rights of the book to future Wicker Man cast member Christopher Lee in 1971.
In both, a police officer attempts to investigate reports of a missing child in an enclosed rural area and has to deal with psychological trickery, seduction, ancient religious and ritualistic practices.
The Finders Keepers reissue contains an introduction by writer and musician Bob Stanley called “A Note On Ritual”, which serves as an overview of and background to this very particular slice of literature which deals with pastoral otherlyness, the flipside and undercurrents of bucolia and folklore:
‘…be warned, like The Wicker Man, it is quite likely to test your dreams of leaving the city for a shady nook by a babbling brook.’ (Bob Stanley on Ritual from the introduction.)”
The Wicker Man has been extensively written about over the years, both online and in print, including Allan Brown’s entertaining and extensive unearthing and researching of the background and myths that surround the film in his book Inside The Wicker Man: How Not to Make a Cult Classic…
A concise and revealing look at the film is also included in the 2002 book Your Face Here by Ali Catterall and Simon Wells…
There is a rigour to the research in the book without it stepping into the sometimes drier grounds of academia and the text reflects a genuine love for and appreciation of these films…
…the chapter now reflects a sense of the ongoing and growing story of this now quite well harvested in one form or another film, albeit one which through its ongoing appreciation and cultural inspirations/reverberations still occupies apparently quite fertile and not yet completely unearthed or unburied ground.”
“Of the reams of writing on The Wicker Man, Vic Pratt’s article “Long Arm of the Lore” from the October 2013 issue of the BFI’s Sight & Sound magazine is well worth seeking out…
The article intertwines the cultural and historical context of the film, the romance of analogue recording techniques and the inner and wider myth and folkloric aspects of it…
In it Vic Pratt places The Wicker Man in its period cultural context of changing times and mores, considering how the children of the 1960s had grown up and taken their place in respectable society and sometimes the media, bringing or infiltrating their countercultural interests with them, possibly having lost some of their political fervour while also looking for the more authentic or spiritually fulfilling but not via traditional avenues.
The article describes how accompanying this was a sense of folk custom, witchcraft and the occult no longer being quite such marginalised or extreme interests; they had become the stuff of relatively mainstream film, television, music and publishing and a reflection of this can be seen in the themes of The Wicker Man…
In many ways, both this and the issue of the magazine could be seen as a companion to the August 2010 Sight & Sound issue, which has as its cover strapline “The Films of Old, Weird Britain”, accompanied by a Wicker Man-like, landscape myths and folk horror-esque illustration and features “The Pattern Under the Plough” article by Rob Young as its main feature.
That article delves beneath the topsoil of British cinema to find a rich seam of films and television which take the landscape, rural ways, folklore (of the traditional and reimagined varieties) or ‘the matter of Britain’ as their starting point…”
“(Rob Young’s The Pattern Under the Plough article) further contextualises The Wicker Man, placing it alongside other such folk horror films as Witchfinder General. It then goes on to consider an interrelated loose grouping of films and television which in part explore those flipside Albionic cracks in the landscape.
These include Winstanley (1975) and its dramatising of historical English Civil War era searching for an earthly paradise, the journey through a rural year of Akenfield (1974), the almost straight documentary that also seems to quietly explore the undercurrents of the land Sleep Furiously (2008)…
It also includes considerations of and connects the above with the art film experiments and psychogeography (a form of explorative wandering) of Derek Jarman’s Journey to Avesbury (1971), Patrick Keiller’s Robinson in Space (1997) and Chris Petit’s London Orbital (2002), the atavistic memories of Quatermass and the Pit (1967) and the layered spectral rural history tales of Penda’s Fen (1974).
“The Wicker Man has also acted as a wider source of musical inspiration and influence, branching out into more mainstream and even chart music. The band Sneaker Pimps recorded a song called “How Do”, which is a version of “Willow’s Song” from The Wicker Man soundtrack and includes samples from the film…
It was a curious thing for a quite pop orientated band, even if a more left-of-centre one, back then to include a song from The Wicker Man soundtrack. At the time of How Do’s release The Wicker Man was a known film but its extended and ever growing cultdom had not really started to gather pace yet and Trunk Records’ release of the soundtrack was still a couple of years away, so information about the film was probably still relatively thin on the ground.”
“In a possible further example of the ongoing influence of the film, in 2008 Kelli Ali, who was the singer with Sneaker Pimps at the time of Becoming X, released a pastoral folk inflected album called Rocking Horse on record label One Little Indian, which was produced by Max Richter…
(On her album) Butterfly there is also another version of Willow’s Song, which takes it back nearer to its purely imagined folkloric roots and although being her own interpretation it is closer to how the song was performed for The Wicker Man’s soundtrack than the Sneaker Pimps version and indeed would not seem all that out of place if heard amongst the other music in the film.”
“In a further Wicker Man connection with one time chartbound bands, Pulp included a song called “Wickerman” on their 2001 album, We Love Life.
The song is a multi-layered piece of culture, one that interweaves samples from the original The Wicker Man film soundtrack recording and hence otherly folkloric concerns, alongside a sense of urban exploration, the true life history of the band, spoken word, a certain grandiosity in its production (possibly courtesy of producer Scott Walker), the social history of Sheffield and surrounding areas and a yearning, wistful love story…
…members of Pulp went on an expedition through tunnels beneath Sheffield that were used for sluicing industrial run off… that journey became increasingly dangerous feeling and… it inspired the Pulp song Wickerman…
…what the real life story of the band wandering through those tunnels also brings to mind is the underground tunnel sequence in Ben Wheatley’s 2011 film Kill List, and its related occult vision of folkloric machinations; lines from which could be connected backwards to The Wicker Man and its flipside views, expressions and interpretations of folklore and an unsettled take on pastoralism.”
“Along with the above books, articles and records which explore and/or draw inspiration from The Wicker Man there are an extensive number of websites and documentaries which focus on the film.
One of the most in depth of such websites is The Wicker Man (1973) Wikia site which on a recent visit had 138 different pages related to the film…
Of particular note are the images of the construction of The Wicker Man structure used in the film and also the numbered on-set and press photographs taken from contact sheets.
Even though they are on a public site these seem to offer a semi-hidden view or a glance behind the curtain of the film.
However, despite this they do not diminish the mystique or myths of the film, which can sometimes be the case with such photographs or “How We Made the Film” documentaries and DVD extras.
This is possibly because The Wicker Man has such a multi-layered set of myths around it, some of which are intrinsically connected and interwoven with the production of the film itself and related backstories, all of which have become part and parcel of its intriguing nature.”
“Further behind the scenes views and discussion can be found in a now quite considerable number of The Wicker Man documentaries, including those on the various DVD/Blu-ray releases of the film and also in documentaries which were originally broadcast on television.
1) The Wicker Man/BBC Scotland on Screen (2009), in which actor Alan Cumming wanders around the film’s locations, with how they are today segueing into scenes from the film…
This features… the woman who runs the gallery where the sweet shop scene was filmed (who says something along the lines of some visiting tourists thinking that those who live in the area actually are pagans).
2) The Wicker Man episode of the BBC 4 series Cast and Crew (2005), which hosts a round table discussion of the film.
(Which includes) cast members Christopher Lee, Ingrid Pitt being her delightfully eccentric and expressive self (slightly embarrassing/ awkward for more reserved British sensibilities to know how to cope with this)…
(Another Wicker Man related documentary is) Sing Cuckoo: The Story and Influence of The Wicker Man Sound track…
(Which features) the musicians Stephen Cracknell of The Memory Band and Mike Lindsay of Tuung (who have both created and released The Wicker Man-related work) and Jonny Trunk who is variously an archival record researcher, collector, writer and was responsible for the release of the first commercial edition of The Wicker Man’s soundtrack via his label Trunk Records…
There is something very evocative and moving about this particular documentary and it has a certain classiness to it, a sense of a deep respect for the film both by those shown in it and from behind the camera.
Part of that is the way it is divided into titled chapters that connect with the themes of the film and its influence; Creation, Isolation, Resurrection, Inspiration and Resolution…”
“In terms of some of the reasons for the ongoing and expanding appeal of the film and its soundtrack, Stephen Cracknell makes an incisive point about how the songs have become like folk standards for young indie-folk musicians and says:
“I think it will go on influencing people by giving them this idea of ‘Wow, you can be playful and sexy and daring and scary, not just reverential with old music and make it new and vibrant’. It stands like a beacon for that really.”
Online images to accompany Chapter 10 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
Details of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book and the collection of its accompanying online images can be found at the Book’s Page, which will be added to throughout the year.