Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Wicker Man (1973)

I don't know how I managed to avoid this movie for so long.

Wicker Man is a treat, a hybrid of genres and tones with some nice snappy writing, bizarre song/dance sequences, naked people, and fire. If that doesn't sell you, don't see this film, because there's not much else there. This film is regarded by many as a cult masterpiece, and the backlash from those whose expectations were artificially aroused is that it's not that good, that meaningful, that scary, whatever. Whatever, I say. You put a die-hard middle-aged virgin Christian police officer on an island of singing naked pagans, and you pretty much know how it's going to end. That's not the point. The point is that the innkeeper's buxom blonde daughter, Willow, dances around her room in a naked, wall-slapping festival of seduction. The point is that this policeman is so far out of his element that he basically confronts everyone instead of actually investigating anything, slinging his lay-pastor sermons and dead rabbits (sorry, hares) at the townsfolk as if this will inspire honesty about the lost girl he's been sent there to investigate. That it's pretty obvious what the mystery is doesn't matter. The point is Christopher Lee delivering a young boy and a sermon on nature and sex to winsome Willow as we watch two snails mating or fighting or whatever snails get off doing.

This is an artfully done first film, to my knowledge not followed up in any deserving way. Distribution, as well, was a mess, as the film fell victim to the genre-rigid marketing schema of the big studios. Musical? Horror? Mystery? Kind of. Of course, its flop and the various stories of missing prints and footage burned (or, alternately, used as highway filler) have only fueled its longevity, but it doesn't deserve either ignorance nor elevation to a kind of religion. It does deserve to be seen by anyone who likes movies that are not easily defined, that are nicely filmed, and that will surprise you not in terms of plot but in how all this plays out on screen. Looking back at it, at least with my own worldview which I must admit is very unlike our hero's, Summerisle seems like a great place to take a vacation, and I will definitely be revisiting it in the near future.

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