|The Wicker Man
Article from Movie Collector
One of the most feted and fated films of the seventies, The Wicker Man is a mistreated and much cut masterpiece that has survived the indifference and hostility of distributors to become one of the key films of the decade. Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee and writer Anthony Shaffer talk to Trevor Willsmer about the making of the film and it's enduring appeal.
The project began in a rather round about manner, as its author, Anthony Shaffer, recalls.
"I had bought a book with a consortium of Christopher Lee and Peter Snell, who at that time was the managing director of British Lion, and they said "Would you write us a picture?" I recommended a book and we each put up some money to acquire the rights, perhaps £5000 each. When I came to do the book I realised that it wasn't as good as I thought it was. It wasn't actually going to pay out, and so I said "Well, I'm sorry about this but I think I ought to give you chaps your money back and forget it."
Peter Snell said "Oh, not quite so fast. You owe me a movie, alright?"
"So I said "Oh alright. Well I better get on with it,"
It was shortly after that director Robin Hardy became involved. Hardy began his career with the National Film Board of Canada, going on to work in television and commercials. His association with Shaffer dated back to the sixties, when they had formed a company to make commercials and documentaries.
"About the same time Robin had a slight heart attack. He had to be - not exactly hospitalized, but kept quiet, and his wife at the time said to me "Can you find something for Robin to do that'll keep him quiet because he keeps getting up and running about all over the place?"
"I said "That seems to me like a research job might do that." They were living down at Maidenhead at the time and I said to him "Why don't you sit in Maidenhead Library and research pagan society, specifically Celtic society." Because I had decided to do a film on the nature of sacrifice. It seemed to me a subject that had not really been covered in the movies and that we should do something about it."
The resulting film needed a brilliant script to pull off its premise - that on an island off the coast of Scotland a community of pagans were planning a human sacrifice to appeases the old gods after their harvest failed. Not only did it have to map out a convincing pagan landscape in the 20th century, explore the conflict between old (pagan) and new (Christian) religions, set it against a convincing village community but also to involve us in the fate of self-righteous puritanical protagonist and work within a commercial framework as an intriguing thriller.
In one of the film's most unique touches it also drew attention to the pagan origins of apparently innocent rituals such as Morris dancing and the Maypole by weaving folk songs adapted by the American composer Paul Giovanni into the narrative ("it nearly becomes a musical at one point," admits Shaffer, adding I think it's a tremendously good score. I think it's a stunning piece of work.")
Using devout Christian Police Sergeant Neil Howie's investigation into the disappearance of a girl on the island as a mirror for the film's investigation of pagan belief, Shaffer's screenplay succeeded on all counts, with a deceptive apparent simplicity to both its construction and dialogue, often getting complex ideas across with surprising wit. "I like when we first meet Christopher Lee he makes that remark about the Christian religion," offers Shaffer, "that they worship a man 'the son of a virgin impregnated by a ghost.' That is parthenogenesis. There is no answer to this. That's the fun bit. I think in the picture we tried to have a standard above the average Hammer movie."
The role of the 'not unenlightened' pagan Lord Summerisle had been written with Lee in mind, and an intriguingly eclectic cast was assembled - Diane Cliento as the island's schoolteacher, Lindsay Kemp as the inn keeper and, as his daughter, a dubbed Britt Ekland, chosen by Snell because of her perceived box-office value in the States and, to help secure a circuit release in the UK, Ingrid Pitt as the librarian. For the role of Howie, Robin Hardy chose Edward Woodward, who was at that time becoming worried about the possibility of being typecast as a result of the long-running TV series of Callan.
"I was looking for something that was entirely different. And it was a very exciting story. The Shaffer brothers are probably the best writers in the world, so it was a foregone conclusion that it was going to be well written. When I started I didn't think it would become the cult that it has and I'm probably recognised for that around almost more than anything else. It's quite a phenomenon."
"The picture has a major twist to it, in that you're looking at the thing the wrong way round," explains Shaffer. "The man who is the pursuer is the pursued. He is the sacrifice because it takes a certain checklist to be a perfect sacrifice. In that rather strange scene on the cliff towards the end of the picture, we list what those things are: the man who came willingly to the sacrifice, who represents the law as the kings used to in the old days, a virgin, and so on and so forth. Those are the elements that make up the perfect sacrifice and that is why he was the man to fill that position. We probably should be able to work it out for ourselves but we're so busy looking towards the young girl as the person to be sacrificed we don't pause to think in that way, so it comes as a surprise to us that it turns out to who it is."
To embody that checklist, the actor playing Howie, the 'Christian copper,' had to a formidable array of elements stacked against making the character - a virgin in his thirties, intolerant and blinded by religion, yet embodying authority - believable, let alone sympathetic.
For Woodward "It was hard work, I do remember that. I remember burning the midnight oil, not just learning it, because it wasn't particularly difficult to learn, good writing never is, but certainly working out how one was going to get all those elements. I must say Robin Hardy was an enormous help there. More than anything I've ever done the storyline had to stay in my head. The whole film depended really on his growing unawareness, and the mixture of both. It was very difficult."
At that time, British Lion was in a state of turmoil. The company had been taken over in May of 1972 by businessman John Bentley and it was widely believed that the new owners' intent was purely to asset strip (it controlled Shepperton studios at the time, which Bentley was eager to sell). Under pressure from the unions, he eventually sought a low-budget project that could quickly be out into production. The Wicker Man fit the bill.
Summerisle was actually made up of a number of location, as Shaffer recalls. "The first location was up in Plockton, that funny little street with the palm trees in it at the beginning of the picture. Then we moved down to the Newton Stewart area, so it's not far away but I think those locations were probably 40-50 miles away, it wasn't shot in one place." The schoolhouse and inn sequences were shot in Newton Stewart while the ruined church was located nearby at Kirkcudbright and other scenes were shot in Stranraer and St Ninians Cave.
"I don't think I've ever been on so many locations as we had on that film," recalls Woodward. "We were in the west of Scotland, we were in the north of Scotland, we were in the highlands and the lowlands. We were everywhere. And the travelling is not the easiest in that part of the world, and certainly wasn't then, even less so then.
"I can remember an enormous amount of panic. We had such unbelievable weather. And it was supposed to be shot in the spring. The idea of doing a spring movie, whether it was November or December in Scotland of all places was itself bizarre. But generally speaking we were pretty lucky, and it was very, very cold but we weren't held up very much by the weather."
"We were lucky in the weather" agrees Shaffer, " in the sense that the go came to the make the picture very late in the year I think most of October had passed by then. Now to go to Scotland to make a film that depends on endless day of sun in November and December? We had about ten or twelve weeks of absolutely blazing clear weather, because the Gulf stream comes in there. Obviously we chose a place where we had these palm trees and things you see in the film. That represent what the story is about. And ten miles away it was snowing."
Not that all the locations were strangers to snow, as Woodward recalls, "There was this marvelous day when I was riding along to see the schoolhouse and it was supposed to be a sunny beautiful day and it was snowing and sleeting! And we had these apple trees, about 400 plastic apple trees in full bloom, all made in Hong Kong or somewhere like that, and I was supposed to ride past this wonderful orchard with all these pregnant women picking the apples and doing whatever pregnant women do in apple fields. There were the apple trees and the were all these pregnant ladies, freezing cold, great big blow-heaters everywhere - they had to choose moments when the sleet wasn't sleeting and the snow wasn't obvious - and I passed by some prop men and hundreds of other people rushed and grabbed the trees as I'd gone by, rushed round behind the camera and put them down again. So there was this endless, wonderful, wonderful shot of pregnant ladies with the apple fields, and it was like a vast, vast fields of orchards.
"We were in fact tying a lot of the fruit on the trees and doing all the normal phoney things," Shaffer admits. "One shot of that blossom is actually shot in South Africa. One shot only, but we had the foresight to shoot a lot of apple blossom in the English spring, hoping that we were going to get a go on the film, so we had it in the can and used it obviously with a lot of back projection and plate work at one time and another. Having that in the hand was a considerable bonus, otherwise we simply could not have really convincingly told the story." But what remains clearest in Woodward's memory are the events surrounding the filming of the climax of the movie on a Scottish peninsula called the Machars, by which time British Lion had again changed hands.
"It was sort of a movie in a movie, really. I never forget we were filming on the edge of the cliffs and we'd filmed the scene when they were dragging me up to the wicker man, and it was freezing. I mean, (I've) never been so cold, and there was I in a shift and bare feet and all the villagers in spring outfits in winter, absolutely frozen to the marrow. Of course, it took forever to do. And climbing over rocks, literally it was very frightening because we were within feet of the cliff.
There were all of us actors, practically every leading actor in the movie was in this last scene, and there's the wicker man towering above us and at one of those precise moments a limousine arrived. There aren't very many limousines in the North-East or West of Scotland, but up comes this limousine on the track at the top. Out get these two gentlemen dressed exactly as if they stepped out of a limousine in Madison Avenue. They called in peremptory fashion "Hey, is there anybody down there we can talk to?"
"Cut!" said Robin Hardy, throwing his head in the air and he disappeared for about half an hour and he came back looking very bemused. These were two of the representatives of the people who had just bought out British Lion, or so they told us. They were quite obviously Americans. Nobody really knew who they were but they kind of peered into our lives and then disappeared. Whether they stayed in anybody else's life in the movie I don't know. And then we sort of got back on with the job and they burned me. Things like that happened all the time on that film."
Two full-sized 'wicker men' 60ft tall were built for the film, as was a central section that was used for close-ups. The larger models were supported by guide ropes. "The most astonishing thing about it was the noise it made, the wind going through the wire," adds Woodward.
For the final burning sequence, as the head catches fire, a stunt double was used, (who was)literally whipped out of the back by a cherrypicker via a harness arrangement, but most of the sequence was shot with Woodward himself. However, the actor found himself in some difficulties when his appointment with the wicker man was suddenly brought forward.
"Thc scene in the wicker man when Howie is screaming out at them, quoting the Bible was all scheduled, the weather report cleared and everything, and then suddenly one day Robin said "We've got to do that scene today, there's going to be a storm coming up. We've got to do it today."
"And we got on the set and, of course, I hadn't learned it. There was yards of the stuff, Biblical quotations. Suddenly there I was doing it. I said "Well, I haven't learned it"
And he said "Well we're going to have to do it."
"So for the first time in my life, I used a crib card, but you see I was 50-60 feet up so I couldn't look at a crib card, so the only thing they could do, they hung vast sheets on a cliff opposite. It had got these vast letters. We did it so many times that by the time we finished it, I think the actual take they used is probably the one that I knew it by then. It's probably a mixture. It was, the biggest crib card ever in the history of movies. They had to keep pulling it up as I was going through it and screaming "The Lord's hand is upon you! God help you!" and I was reading it like mad about 60 feet away. But there was nothing else I could do. There was no way I could learn it in time.
"I'm always fascinated by the fact that audiences just sit and watch it and hopefully they are enthralled and they don't know how it's done. It was the first time it's ever happened to me, and it's never happened since!"
"We had a little bit of minor trouble with the locals, which was quite fun" remembers Shaffer. "They thought we (were) really burning those animals. They were furious, I had to go and make a speech to calm them all down." The only casualty occurred when Woodward was being taken up to the wicker man.
"lt. was so cold, everybody was blue, literally blue, especially the women, bare-legs and decollate necklines and things, spring clothes, literally blue with cold. My legs were absolutely dead. They had to hold me above the ground because I couldn't feel my legs on the ground, except at one point I do remember having somewhere miles below me a sort of pain, but it went very quickly. This was on the very last time we did it, thank God, and I was dragged up the hill for the nineteenth time and lifted up by this giant(Ian Campbell) and carried up those steps into the wicker man, which was the most frightening thing that I think I've ever done. I kept saying to him "You drop me and you're dead." He said "No lad I drop you, yer dedd." I thought, that was charming. Six foot eight he was.
"Anyway, we all went back to our hotels and literally crashed out. I went straight back. No food, nothing al all - large whisky, straight to bed, fast asleep. I was called at 6.00 the next morning, got out of bed and collapsed. Unbeknownst to me I'd broken my little toe. I was taken to the doctor and they were furious. How dare I break my toe! This was ridiculous to them - the way film people have of blaming people for being ill. I had to go to hospital and the doctor strapped it up.
"I was limping, but nobody seemed to mind. As long as I could hop I would have been alright. Luckily I had quite a lot of sitting down to do for the next few days, driving that pony and trap around. My elder daughter, Sarah, learned to ride on that little pony and I used to drive around Sussex when I lived down there with the pony and trap. So I got some fun out of it afterwards as well."
Shaffer too has reason to remember the film fondly. "It wasn't tremendously happy at that time, but I came out of it alright in the sense that I met my wife there, Diane Cliento. We met on that film and married a few years later. If shooting had retained an air of panic, the editing would become a rout. As is widely known, much of what was filmed never made it into the final film, in any of its numerous versions The new managing directors of British Lion, Barry Spikings and, in particular, Michael Deeley, took a violent dislike to the film.
"I don't know why," says Woodward. Quite often in life, if you take over something from somebody you want to put your own mark and if it was going on at the time you're inclined to dismiss and say "Well we don't really need that, do we' Do we have to do it" They don't want anybody else's success or anybody else's failure, and I think that's what happened very much with this film.
"I think there was also a certain amount of meanness about it as well. However, I don't suppose we'll ever get to the bottom of it really. It's very strange. The business is strange, and what happened to that film I think epitomises many of the strangnesses of the business."
Deeley's dislike for the film was apparently shared by the film's editor, Eric Boyd-Perkins. Robin Hardy alleged that Boyd-Perkins claimed certain scenes had not been shot or could not be found, but Shaffer, who was not present for the editing process, is markedly more conciliatory.
"There were problems with Boyd-Perkins at the time. I think it was a bit of a personality clash between him and Robin on the picture. I think Boyd-Perkins was being run by two masters at the time, the studio and the director, and that is always going to lead to a certain amount of ill feeling, as you can imagine. Whether or not the cuts or suggested edit were aesthetically right or wrong is something that you can't see if you suspect that the motivation for making them is other than it is."
Nevertheless, a 102 minute cut of the film was delivered, beginning with Sergeant Howie returning to the mainland, where he seems almost as much of an outsider as he is an Summerisle even his subordinate (John Hallam) makes jokes about his virginity and piety behind his back. His religious convictions are made clear from the outset, and elaborated on in a scene of him in church with his fiance (the clergyman in this scene is Robin Hardy). The following morning the postman delivers an anonymous letter from Summerisle about the missing girl, leading into the title sequence of Howie flying to the island.
Shaffer feels that these scenes in particular were essential. "It explains a lot about the copper, the stitched up nature of him. He obviously a man blinded by religion, and is scandalized by the idea of a godless religion, in his terms any form of paganism would be. To some extent that opening sequence is very necessary, otherwise he seems a bit of a berk, wandering around being absolutely scandalized by people singing in the streets and carrying on a bit unless he's one of those. His blindness, of course, finally, blinds him from what is actually taking place here.
"I think that it's a slightly pedestrian beginning. I think there's just a little too much of it, but as, a contrast to the island I think some of it is necessary. You can't have all jam, you've got to have bread in your sandwich as well."
However, even this version was missing several scenes, such as Howie going about his business on the mainland closing down a pub and dealing with prostitutes in the street. Also cut was a scene where Howie interviewed a young girl who stayed with the mother of the missing girl on Summerisle, Lord Summerisle's first meeting with Howie was substantially trimmed, as Lee recalls:
"We went through all sorts of different rooms and areas while I was talking to him. He meets me for the first time when he's looking out the window - 'Does the sight of them refresh you, Sergeant Howie' and so on, and that's the first time. And then we move out of one room into another right after I've talked about my father. Then there's a scene where I actually pick a knife up out of something which contains knives on a table and walk outside with this knife; and the reason is of course we're going into another sequence which is in a hothouse, and then another sequence which is where apple storage takes place, and then another sequence where various things happen to the apples, and then outside into the garden. By that time I have used this knife to cut up an apple and give it to him. He's munching it. And then I give him another one and throw it away and say "Don't bother to taste that."
"Now all these sequences were covered by my dialogue, my talking, wonderful lines like "they bowed as low as their various religions would permit," the various clerics on the island, who didn't like what my father was doing, they bowed as low as their respective religions would permit and argued that if God had intended us to have these methods or fertilizer, he would have provided it. And then they fled the island never to return. Wonderful lines like that. I mean it was one gem after another, all gone, all cut.
"It's half of what it was. For instance, the various tradesmen on the island, if you include the doctor in that, there was the fishmonger, the butcher, they all had their own scenes, things to say and things to do. They ended up with nothing. They were all specific different characters."
"Oh yes," agrees Shaffer, "in the sequence when he's looking for the girl. There was more of that chase, that hunt, and I think some of those scenes could be restored with profit On the other hand, as they say, literally, cut to the chase. Well, we cut to the chase and we cut the chase."
Despite Snell's efforts to drum up publicity for the film, culminating in erecting the surviving prop wicker man from the film outside the Carlton Hotel at the Cannes Film Festival, Deeley refused to release the film. Worse was to come. Hardy, Snell and Shaffer were locked out of the studio and the film was re-edited. The version that went into UK cinemas was trimmed further to 85 minutes, which not only cut to the chase but altered the length of Howie's stay on the island from two nights to one. Shaffer is still angry.
"It's too rushed, it's bullshit. The thing does not allow it to breathe naturally, take it's own time, and it's shocks per second, it's a very common way of thinking and it reduces fine work to rubble, basically. The thing was butchered.
"It was quite stupid. It was designed far a two-day thing and they cut it in that way. There's so many versions I can't keep up with it all. There's just a new one being published in the States. One is 86 minutes, another 88, another 96, I mean, Jesus, I wouldn't know which one's which. Very confusing. Basically, the two-night version is the one which I intended. It gives it a certain amount of space, a certain amount of claustrophobia and it allows the story to develop at its right pace. They really behaved quite brutishly towards the picture, very insensitively, and really didn't do much to help sell it.
"The film was something slightly horrific to the salesmen at British Lion at the time. After all, they'd done nothing except sell On The Buses or the Carry On series. British Lion produced very few films of seriousness of intent, and the salesmen were scandalized. The cavalry don't come at the end of the picture. (It was) fairly amusing because these elderly gentlemen, as they mostly were, sat there in a stunned silence, as if (to say) "is that all?"
"I said "We're gonna have a hell of a time selling this" Well, in fact, they didn't try very hard. Of course, the kiss of death is to win all those film festivals, culminating in the Grand Prix for Films Fantastique in Paris, which is a major pot. This of course puts the kiss of death on any picture, as you can well imagine. It is now an art movie, shock, terror!"
Among the reasons cited for the difficulty in selling the film was its content. Lee disagrees. "It's not meant to offend. I went to a private showing with Robin Hardy to various members of different religions - priests, clergymen, Episcopalians, whatever you call it in the States, a rabbi, there was a Catholic priest. A lot of people, in some cases with their wives, and they sat watching the film and afterwards we asked them if they found it offensive, because, of course, of the blasphemy in my remarks, which were the only possible logical remarks that I could make. And everybody else's behaviour if it comes to that. The inhabitants of the island, being pagans, we did not consider that what we were saying was blasphemous. We were slightly concerned with various ministers would think it was blasphemous, and we said to them "Well, do you find it offensive?"
"Not at all, none of it, " they said, "because it is made clear that it is a conflict between pagans and organised religion, if you like to call if that, in this case Scottish Kirk, and because what you say and do is totally logical and would be said and done by people who had those beliefs, we don't regard it as blasphemous at all and we will say so to our congregations from the pulpit."
"They come and go, these things," says Shaffer. "I think the BBC withdrew the film because some boys were going to be tried for some sort of nonsense akin to black magic in Scotland, and the BBC had the thing removed from a Saturday night screening. That's happening all the time. It seems to be quite dotty. I rather like that when it happens. It means that people are taking your work seriously. They wouldn't be doing that if they didn't think it was having some effect on people, so that's all very genial in some ways."
The film eventually emerged unheralded as a supporting feature to Nicolas Roeg's Don't Look Now, apparently purely to qualify as a 'quota' picture as per the-then requirement that cinemas show a certain number of British films per year. Ironically, the success of Roeg's film ensured that The Wicker Man was actually seen by a substantial audience in the UK. As well as a double-bill, the films share a similar premise, in which the main character's misinterpretation of events leads to their destruction. Shaffer agrees.
"There in also the concealment in Don't Look Now. We the audience don't realise that it is Sutherland who has the psychic powers. We think it's someone else. I think that that double-bill was pretty good value for money. It was, I think, very much an example of the contempt in which British Lion held The Wicker Man to put it out in a double-bill and in a cut version to accommodate the overall time." "When it came out with Don't Look Now, the reaction of the public and the critics - because there was no press show the critics all went to see it - over the years I am told again and again and again that they were virtually unanimous that it was a better picture than Don't Look Now," states Lee, before adding "It is sadly, for me, almost a shadow of what we actually did."
In actuality, one of the reasons many critics saw it was that Lee and Shaffer rang them up and asked them to see it, even offering to pay for their tickets. The Wicker Man did, briefly, get a release on its own at the Odeon Haymarket following the success of the double- bill, but there were no serious efforts to release it to local cinemas despite the existence of a UK pressbook and posters.
The film's American release was initially delayed by the collapse of National General films, who were the only takers for the picture who were willing to put up enough money for British Lion, who were seeking an unreasonable $1m advance on it but eventually settled for considerably less than half that. The US rights to the film were passed on to Warner Bros, who apparently tested in a few drive-in cinemas, and subsequently taken over by Beachhead Properties, who gave it an extremely limited release purely to qualify for tax concessions.
In the UK, the rights passed from British Lion to EMI to Cannon to Initial, with none of the various parties expressing any particular interest in the film beyond leasing it for TV screenings.
But while the distributors had done their best to bury it, it did not lie down. "There was a very curious society formed called The Wicker Man Appreciation Society," says Shaffer, "a lot of nutters, of course, but it's very sweet. They formed this little society and one occasionally gets broadsheets from them and things like that. So it obviously had a considerable effect on a great number of people, and it's still having it.
It was in America that the film's reputation really look off when, primarily due to the efforts of Hardy's lawyer Bob Lasky, Beachhead Properties auctioned off the film. It went for a 20000 cash guarantee to an independent distribution company, Abraxas, who re-released a partially restored version of the film with material taken from a near-mint copy of the 102 minute version which had been sent to Roger Corman when he had expressed interest in the picture. Corman felt the film overlong, and it is believed that many of the cuts made for the 85 minute version were the result of suggestions he passed onto British Lion. Nevertheless, he still retained the print in its original form.
When news of this came out, or so the National Enquirer reported on 5th April 1977, Britt Ekland's then-boyfriend Rod Stewart offered to buy the film for a six-figure sum to destroy it and spare her embarrassment over her nude dance sequence, when her character attempts to seduce the virginal Howie. As the film's composer, Paul Giovanni, noted at the time in an interview in Cinefantastique's comprehensive issue on the film, "I can't believe he's serious. I mean, her tits have been in nearly all her movies all since The Night They Raided Minsky's!"
"It was quite extraordinary," remembers Shaffer of the film's revival. "I was walking in Westwood, which is the town next to UCLA campus, with Sam Goldwyn Jr, and there was a long line of people there leading down to that big movie house in the middle of Westwood and he said 'What is the attraction? What is drawing the crowd today?" I hadn't the faintest idea. We walked all the way down it, it was about half a mile long, and it was The Wicker Man. Half the freaks in California, the kids, they obviously would like that, and they did, and it really turned that whole thing round in a rather modest beginning that we all had in England going out with Don't Look Now, with NCI's film, and we never looked back.
"But it was a pretty disappointing start when British Lion really said "Were no going to get behind this." Salesmen said "We can't sell it." I felt they were completely out of touch with their audience and history proved us right in that way."
This film has probably become one of the great cult films of all cinema history," notes Lee, "certainly is the United States, where it broke a large number of records in various art cinemas like the Orson Welles Cinema in Boston and the Lumiere in San Francisco. But it's not the film we shot..'
Although this version is (or at last was) available on video in the US, it has yet to receive a proper public screening in the UK outside of the bootleg market. A partially restored version, containing only the church scene from the film's mainland prologue but containing all the other footage from the 102 minute version, has been shown by the BBC. However, Warner Home Video chose to recently reissue the shortest version of the film in the UK, citing the relatively short period they retain the rights as deeming it unviable to master and restore it.
Despite its growing reputation, attempts at a full restoration of the 'mislaid' scenes has proved impossible, despite the efforts of Shaffer, Snell, Hardy and, particularly, Lee.
"All I can say is we shot every line and every word of that script. I saw it at a private cinema in the basement of British Lion, probably 1973, I thought "Oh, there's an awful lot missing here." There were some things in it that I personally thought weren't maybe all that necessary but there was certainly some very strange culling going on, notably the strolling about in the garden with the policeman, which went into a series of rather jerky cuts and it wasn't really clear what we were seeing or doing. What you hear us saying is not what we actually did say in that particular shot, because it was a very long shot.
"So I felt this was a bit odd, some of the cutting was a bit strange I thought, I remember these other scenes, a great many in fact, and so I talked to Peter Snell and Anthony Shaffer and Robin Hardy. "Do you think we could have a look at the negative of the picture, the out-takes. I think we can do better than this. "And from that day to this, despite innumerable searches, by all of us, Peter Snell, Robin Hardy, Anthony Shaffer and myself, the negative of the picture and the out-takes have vanished. They've vanished. So whatever you see as The Wicker Man there days is one of, I think, three different versions. but it's not the edited version of everything we did.
"Maybe it would have added a bit more. I think it would have held and people would have enjoyed it even more. We could have had a great picture on our hands instead of a very good one, a truly great one, because I think it was a remarkable film. When I think of some of the other sequences that are not in it, they would have enormously benefited the film and made it a much, much better picture. It's really in a sense a shadow of the picture that it could have been and should have been, because we weren't able to recut it and find the negative and the out-takes.
"We were told the negative had disappeared and the out-takes. Now how you cause a large number of cans of film to disappear is something I just wouldn't have an answer for that. How do they disappear?
"Peter Snell was shown some time later a hole in a road and at the bottom of this big hole were a lot of cans of film, a hell of a lot. He was also told that amongst all that was The Wicker Man. And the hole was filled in.
"Now I personally think that that negative still exists. It could have been deliberately destroyed, in which case that's that. I prefer to think that it was deliberately hidden and it still probably exists somewhere, if only we could find out where. If that is the case, if that did happen, its a criminal offence. Not only criminal negligence if it was destroyed or lost, which I just don't believe - you don't destroy a picture which you spent a lot of money on and you don't lose a very large number of cans of film. So the only conclusion that I can possibly come to is that it was deliberately misplaced, deliberately hidden and it still exists after 22 years.
"I personally think there was a massive cover-up and if only we could find out about that we would be able to take very considerable action and some people would be in an enormous amount of trouble."
While Shaffer's reaction is, not as extreme as Lee", he admits "I wish sometimes we could do that, because a lot of pains and hard work go into doing something, and when it is in fact ruthlessly ripped up by completely insensitive and very often venal people, you'd like to get even with them. And so say we all.
"The fact that it survived at all, let alone ultimately became something of a cult triumph, is a credit to the picture, the strength of the story, I think. And the acting. I think a lot of the actors playing the locals are so good. You get a real sense of proper support playing. You often don't get that in so-called horror movies, and I think they all played extremely well.
"I don't know that Lee's done anything better than that. He's absolutely formidable in that mauve frock and that fright wig. It's a sensationally good performance. Lee is absolutely amazing in the picture. So is Edward.
"Anyway, it survives in one form or another and eventually won the garland from an American movie magazine (Cinefantastique) 'the Citizen Kane of horror movies,' which is something that one treasures."
"Now you think about it, it's a sort of wonderful, strange happening in film history in a minor way," offers Woodward. It's intriguing. Unique. And that's why it's lasted and why it's still cult-like. I meet people all the time who come up to me - mostly young people and say "We saw that film you were in. We didn't know anything about it and we saw it - God what a fantastic movie!" They go on and on about it and of course, they're intrigued by all the astonishing basic other religions, as it were, the old religion as we called it. I still get masses of letters. Practically four out of five mention The Wicker Man and least two out of five letters talk about The Wicker Man and about various scenes in it, and this is from all over Be world, so it certainly did find the audience.
"It was a wonderfully bizarre picture to make and it was certainly very, very exciting. I enjoyed it. I loved it. It was a great thing to have done, I must say. It did me, not immediately but certainly over the years a heck of a lot of good. It made me for the first time - you see Callan was never shown in America and it was before I'd done Breaker Morant and this was kind of the first time I was known in America. Those sort of things have a cumulative effect, it helps enormously later on, as it were, careerwise."
Strangely enough, the only one of the key participants not to benefit from the film has been Robin Hardy, as Woodward notes. "Certainly I think that if that film had been treated in the proper manner and the way that it obviously deserved it would have changed his life, I think, totally, more so then than I think now. Certainly I think he was a great loser from it. The producers were losers too. The whole thing was a sum of strange fiasco. We were very lucky that we were able to finish it. There was one point when had we not been beyond the point of no return financially speaking, obviously they would have closed us down. We'd gone so far so they really couldn't, but I'm sure they wanted to."
Robin Hardy could not be contacted, but following his one subsequent film, The Fantasist (for which he originally sought Edward Woodward) seems to have returned to commercials and sporadic television work in the US. Peter Snell, who declined to speak to us for the article (one former associate said that he would rather "be burned alive to appease a pagan god than talk about the film anymore"), but remains active in production primarily for US cable networks. Christopher Lee recently completed a film for Robin Hardy's son, Justin, a family film called A Feast At Midnight. Edward Woodward was recently seen on the BBC in Common As Muck. And Shaffer is thinking of taking another look at a script he wrote a while back which offers what he describes as "a formidably athletic part" for Woodward.
It's called The Wicker Man 2.
Source: Movie Collector
Article written by Trevor Willsmer
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