The Wicker Man

About 20 years ago I saw the movie, The Wicker Man. With word of the new Nicholas Cage version coming out, it piqued our curiosity. So, we trucked down to Victoria's best video store, Pic-A-Flic. They had a copy of the extended version. Extended?

Flashback to the UK ca. 1972: the government was in a shambles, labour strikes were rampant. This was the breeding ground for the Sex Pistols and punk rock. The film was produced at a time of crisis in the British film industry. The studio in charge of production, British Lion Films, was in financial trouble and was bought out by millionaire businessman John Bentley. In order to convince the unions that he was not about to asset-strip the company, Bentley needed to get a film into production quickly. This meant that The Wicker Man, a film set during early summer, was actually filmed in October; in order to look convincing, artificial leaves and blossoms had to be glued to trees in many scenes. Christopher Lee was extremely keen to get the film made; he and others worked on the production without pay. By the time of the film's completion the studio had been bought out by Michael Deeley. At a private screening, he described the film as one of the worst 10 films he'd ever seen. Cuts were made and a copy of the film was sent to American film producer Roger Corman in Hollywood to make a judgement of how to market the film in the USA. In Britain, the film was cut again and eventually released as part of a double bill (with Don't Look Now). Despite Lee's claims that the cuts had butchered the film's continuity, the film met with critical acclaim and won first prize in the 1974 Festival of Fantastic Films in Paris. Sometime thereafter, the original negatives and the only print of the first cut of the film were 'lost'. The film as it was originally released is an 87-minute cut. A partially restored version (which contains scenes recovered from a videotape of the version sent to Roger Corman) runs 99 minutes. You can tell where the video elements were worked back in. Regardless, this version is much better than the version I recalled which-- from ca. 1986-- was likely the shorter and much choppier version.
There is a lot of music in this movie. So much so that it also pass itself off as a musical. It has spawned a huge cult following and almost winds itself as readily through the foundations of pop culture as Eraserhead or Reservoir Dogs:
  • Scottish band Summerisle is named after the island featured in the film.
  • The Coral paid homage to the film in the video of their Top 40 hit "Goodbye" in 2002.
  • Cilento subsequently married Shaffer.
  • Sneaker Pimps did a version of Willow's song they titled "How do" on their debut release, Becoming X. Doves, Isobel Campbell, Anna Oxygen and Faith and the Muse have also covered the song.
  • Iron Maiden have recorded a song entitled "The Wicker Man" as have Pulp, the Pulp version containing a sample from the film. Coincidentally, Bruce Dickinson, lead singer of Iron Maiden, recorded his own original song called "Wicker Man" in 1997, four years before his reunion with the band and the recording of the Iron Maiden song of the same name.
  • English band Candidate made a 2002 album, Nuada, inspired by The Wicker Man.
  • "The Wicker Man" is shown in the background on TV in Danny Boyle's Shallow Grave.
  • A full-size, burning Wicker Man appears in the background of the "End of the World" Party in the film version of "The Rules of Attraction".
  • The image of the burning wicker man is a recurring motif in the final stages of the comic series The Invisibles. A screen showing the final scene in the film is used in the psychological de-programming of one of the characters (D.I. Jack Flint)
  • In Eli Roth's Hostel, a cover of "Willow's Song" from The Wicker Man plays during a sex scene. The "Willow's Song" scenes in The Wicker Man and Hostel share a theme of seduction and entrapment in a foreign land.
  • Iron Maiden released the song "The Wicker Man" on their album Brave New World (2000).
  • In the MMORPG, World of Warcraft a festival called "Wickerman Festival" (in an homage to the film) is held in the Undead capital of Undercity in the month of October.
  • Cedric Bixler-Zavala of The Mars Volta has the Wickerman tattooed onto the back of his right forearm.
More than these, all of this music has spawned a movement called, Psych folk, Psych folk or Psychedelic folk is a music genre that originated in the 1960s through the blending of folk music and psychedelic rock or pop. Psych folk generally favors acoustic instrumentation although it often incorporates other instrumentation. Chanting, early music and world music influences are often found in psych folk. Much like its rock counterpart, psychedelic folk is known for a peculiar, trance-like, and atmospheric sound. Its lyrics are often concerned with such subjects as the natural world, love and beauty and try to evoke a state of mind associated with the effects of psychedelic drugs. However, drug associations are not as important to psych folk as they are to psychedelic rock.

I went to the MySpace site (ug, I actually went to a MySpace site...) for DeVotchKa and they have samples of their music. It's wild stuff. If they have anything Creative Commons, I will grab it for fitting BG music for my videos.

Oh, and if you're thinking about going to the Nicholas Cage film, I'd say save your time and buy the DVD of the original.



Lesley said…
Wow thankx for all the Wicker Man trivia. It's my favorite movie. By the way, at the end of the movie it says a thank you to the people of SummerIsle, do you know if this island really exists?
Mike DeWolfe said…
From what I could discover, Summerisle isn't a real place. The movie was shot on two Scottish islands in October and they had to make the settings look like Summer.

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