Tuesday, 25 September 2012

The Wicker Man (1973)

I was thinking about watching this movie with my mom.  I am so glad I didn't watch this movie with my mom.

The Wicker Man is not parental bonding material
The Wicker Man (Robin Hardy, 1973) follows bobby Sergeant Howie's (Edward Woodward) investigation of the disappearance of pre-teen Rowan Morrison (Gerry Cowper) from an isolated farming community called Summerisle. Howie finds himself stymied at every turn by the conflicting statements given by Summerisle's villagers: Rowan is dead, or not human, or she never existed. All very frustrating, and just to add insult to injury, the innkeeper's daughter (Britt Ekland) won't stop doing naked dances and banging on his bedroom wall (VERY distracting). Gradually it emerges (actually, no one's that subtle about it) that the inhabitants of Summerisle are neo-pagans led by Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee) in the practice of ancient sacrifices and fertility rites. Guess who's due to get sacrificed for a bountiful harvest? Protip: it's not Rowan Morrison.

Despite its endless tit parade, The Wicker Man is, at its core, both conservative and reactionary. It's no coincidence that it came out a couple years after the hippie movement's heyday. In The Wicker Man, anything redolent of back-to-nature -- even folk music or not wearing a bra -- is evil. Yet, like Milton, Hardy seems to be on the devil's side without knowing it. His heathen villagers are ignorant and wicked and the very very Christian Howie is gallant and good, but Hardy's film imbues its villains with a crucial charm its hero lacks: a sense of humor. When Howie, stumbling upon a fertility rite, blusters "They are NAKED!" and Summerisle replies that it would be too dangerous to jump through a fire fully clothed, we can't help but snigger a little bit at our hero's expense. Howie is noble enough, but not particularly sympathetic.

From what I understand about The Wicker Man's production, it's a miracle that a finished print ever saw the light of day (forces ranging from uninterested studio heads to Mick Jagger himself conspired to smother it). Consequently, there are several different cuts floating around. The one I watched -- a 2009 Lions Gate release -- has an un-hemmed quality, laden with scenes and shots which don't contribute directly to the movie's plot. Yet the wealth of information we receive about Summerisle, not all of it relevant or useful, lends the movie's setting a realistic, almost documentary quality. The movie-makers were presumably aware of this unsettling effect, given their winking special-thanks intertitle to "Lord Summerisle and the people of his island" (which has never existed).

Rule Britt-ania
SCENE STEALER: Britt Ekland (acting)/Annie Ross (voice)/Jane Jackson (naked butt shots) as the landlord's GGG daughter Willow. Ekland was apparently dubbed over because her Swedish accent didn't gibe with rustic Summerisle, and used a body double due to her pregnancy, but these decisions made from necessity turned out to be artistically inspired. There is something fantastically fertile and lush about the Willow created in post-production: the combination of Ekland's sweet face, Ross' throaty brogue, and Jackson's, uh, killer dance moves render the character a Frankenstein-ed fox. We're able to see Willow as Howie sees her: not only too tempting to resist, but too tempting to exist (which she doesn't: or rather, she exists only as parts of three separate women).

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