To mark the 40th Anniversary of one of the iconic British films, The Wicker Man, FLUX Magazine had the opportunity or rather we should say privilege to speak with director Robin Hardy.
This new reissue by Studio Canal is the cut that most closely resembles Hardy’s original vision and promises a new discovery for those encountering the film for the very first time, as well as discovery anew for audiences already seduced by this cult classic and piece of genre defying filmmaking.
FLUX: As you directed The Wicker Man in 1973, how has your perception of the film over the years?
Robin Hardy: The great virtue of The Wicker Man is that it has always been out of time. It was made as a sort of antithesis to the Hammer films, though I liked the Hammer films, but we set out to do something very different. Just starting with the photography of the Hammer films, it was all about making the film creepy and so on, whereas we wanted The Wicker Man to reflect the beauties of Scotland, and the attractions of the people. It was done deliberately in order that we lulled the audience into a false sense of security, so that when we finally revealed what the game was really about, it would be a bigger shock. If we’d discovered what was happening in that dank, grey clouded island, it wouldn’t have handed such a whammy to the audience I don’t think.
FLUX: The Wicker Man shares and genre is a particular point of interest. It is tagged a horror film, but it arguably transcends genre. You could call it a horror, thriller, detective story, even a musical or a re-imagining of the Western. How do you perceive The Wicker Man in relation to genre?
Robin Hardy: The important thing is if I can contribute to your list, is to think of it as a game. Tony Shaffer and I went at each other for about thirteen years before we made the film, with him producing and writing, and me directing. It was that sort of relationship. We always thought of it as a game. Have you ever seen his play called Sleuth? Well that is completely a game is it not? The game the two men play with each other. It is a fatal game, filled with lies and illusions. That was very much his forte, and The Wicker Man is constructed, though as you rightly say it is many other things as well, but first and foremost, as far as its structure is concerned, we intended to make it a game. It’s a game in which they say on the cliffs after he comes out of the hole in the cliff, the hunter being the hunted line from Christopher. The indignation from on high, “A game what kind of a game?” He doesn’t realise that the clues to what kind of a game have been there ever since the child drew the Hare, or the letting up of the ceremony with Britt and the boy. Step by step the clues are all there as to what kind of people these are. All he sees most of the time is that it is a challenge to his Christian faith and decency and the norm, because he doesn’t realise that he’s part of the game. If you add that to your list of things of what it is, I think that’s helpful.
FLUX: The film is set in Scotland, and Edward Woodward’s journey to this island village that is out of touch with his personal and religious ideas, is a point of interest when you consider that the main cast of the film comprises Australian, Swedish, Polish and English actors. Is it a case of art imitating life, or the film production imitating art?
Robin Hardy: That’s true. I think the most interesting casting is Lindsay Kemp who plays Alder MacGreagor. He’s a famous mime and he has his own mime troupe. One of the things that was fun for me was that he’s never really spoken in anything he’s done. He’s always worked with just his face and his body as a mime and the scene where the policeman is introduced to the landlord’s daughter; his face is expressing so much. He’s use to using no dialogue but facial expressions to do a good deal of the work. But you’re right, it’s a very international cast, and in fact there are very few Scots apart from the young Scottish schoolgirls and boys. All the leads are very much international, you are right.
FLUX: This Final Cut is the closest to your original intended vision. How will this new version change the experience of The Wicker Man for audiences discovering this either in the cinema or on DVD and Blu-Ray?
Robin Hardy: It will change their experience in that they will see Christopher right at the beginning of the film instead of having to wait two thirds of the film until they see him. We know he’s the lead character from how the old fishermen talk about him, and that’s a big change. We know that the red herring – you’ll have to forgive me – of the Hare, a sort of sub plot which doesn’t really tell us what’s going on at all. We started right there with the little girl, and what has changed also for me is that it has allowed me to cut something out of the film that I didn’t like; the scenes in the police station at the beginning. They are there entirely there to show that he’s a bit of a puritan, a bit of a prick, and you get all of that from his performance the moment he steps onto the island. You don’t need it up front, and frankly I was not all that proud of how I did it. What you do need up front is to see him take the sacrament, because that after all is part of the counterpoint of the pagan sacrifice at the end of the film. I have chosen a Presbyterian church because the Presbyterian church of England does actually say “The blessed body and blood of Jesus Christ. Well if that isn’t a vivid sacrifice what is. Then you get the pagan sacrifice at the end and you see that the whole thing is related.
FLUX: Is The Wicker Man an anti-religious film?
Robin Hardy: No, I don’t think it is. I think it’s very much you pay your money and you make your choice. I think you can divide people between those who believe that when you die it’s just a blackout, and that’s the end and there’s nothing else to come, and those who believe in all the varieties of things that people have conjured up. They believe what happens when they die is that maybe they are going to meet all the billions of people who have lived in the last thousands of years; they sort of step out of their bodies as it were or they don’t.
The Wicker Man rereleased is in cinemas on the 27th September and is available to own on Blu-Ray and DVD courtesy of Studio Canal from the 14th October.
words Paul Risker