FearsMag.com talks to Robin Hardy about The Wicker Trilogy

1 10 2012

Robin Hardy on set for THE WICKER TREE

Robin Hardy’s name will be forever be connected to the 1973 film The Wicker Man. It has become such a worldwide recognized classic the Hardy is often asked to preside at major pop festivals dedicated to The Wicker Man in Scotland and the USA.

For many years Robin Hardy work in the theater, TV commercials, films, and a novelist. Among his literary endeavors are the novels The Wicker Man he co-authored with Anthony Shaffer and Cowboys for Christ, which is the basis for his new film The Wicker Tree.

Filmmaker Robin Hardy returns to the themes he first explored in his classic cult thriller The Wicker Man more than thirty-five years ago – telling the eerie tale of a hedonistic Scots community which makes a human sacrifice – The Wicker Tree inhabits the same territory as The Wicker Man. Intertwined themes of power and sex, of Christian and pagan religion, of bawdy comedy and romantic love, build insistently to a climax of unimaginable horror, all originate from the terrifying imagination of Robin Hardy, director of the cult classic The Wicker Man.

Robin Hardy graciously granted us an audience to discuss his The Wicker Tree, as well as the industry and business of filmmaking.

FEARS: You’ve said that this story, which is based on your novel Cowboys for Christ, is a story that inhabits the same “territory “of the 1973 film The Wicker Man. What is that universe?alt

ROBIN HARDY: With the fall of Rome, a society where women had considerable license to please themselves and the Gods were a cast of characters all armed with thoroughly human foibles, it is possible to imagine a society where fun sex and music and jokes were the norms of daily life. Christianity comes along and you have centuries of monastic existence where Eloise and Abelard are the great romance of their time. And we Brits had to be entertained by a monk called The Venerable Bede. Still, even then, Camelot came along to replace Caligula’s Rome.

In – let us call them the Wicker films -we have tried to create a pagan atmosphere with which to contrast Christian values ( terrible word !). BUT of course paganisms were propitiating religions capable of obscene cruelty if they thought that was what was what the Gods wanted. Christianity, with it’s obsession with witchcraft, it’s inquisitions also thought it knew what the monotheistic God wanted.

And his desires weren’t any prettier. This is the territory we aim to inhabit. But over all we are in the 20th/21st centuries with their pre occupations too. Above all Tony Shaffer and I aimed to entertain. I still do.

FEARS: What do you feel is the core element of The Wicker Man that still resonates with audiences and lead you to novelize the film, with co-writer Anthony Shaffer, and in 2006 inspired you to write the novel Cowboys for Christ?

ROBIN HARDY: Conflict. That most useful of elements in all drama. What makes the amazing Republican circus in South Carolina a world hit on TV.

Conflict – not only between a troupe of extraordinarily over-the-top characters – but also there is a battle of ideas there. Astonishing stuff where the flip side of ” In God We Trust ” is ” I am not my Brother’s keeper “. Paganism and Christianity have so much in common, not only the days of the week and the months of the year – but Christmas and Easter to an amazing degree. Beltane is more fun than Easter but Christmas can outdo those Druids with their obsession with mistletoe. These conflicts turn up at every bend in the road in these films and are at their core.

FEARS: You have to boil a novel down to its cinematic essentials to adapt so I was wondering how the novel Cowboys for Christ differs from The Wicker Tree?

ROBIN HARDY: The policeman is a much more important character in the book. His career is that of a bit of a Sammy Glick but his defeat comes at the hands of a woman who is smarter than he.

It makes sense in the film to hand the policeman/ Lolly scenes almost totally to Lolly. As the female lead in a successful British TV series Honeysuckle is a sympathetic “goody two shoes”. I cast her because I thought she would enjoy the counter casting and she obviously does.

Also she is a wonderful horsewoman enhancing the hunt scenes as few other actresses could. These are all elements in the film that can only be hinted at in the book. 

FEARS: You’re a writer and a director, but not a screenwriter? Why didn’t try and adapt your own novel?alt

ROBIN HARDY: I AM a screenwriter. I have been writing scripts all my life. I adapted this book just as I adapted the screenplay for The Fantasist . But I am also a novelist. My Book of The Month novel The Education of Don Juan I adapted into the best screenplay I have written. But it is a very big budget movie. So it sits on the shelf looking forlorn.

FEARS: The last film you directed was the 1986 film The Fantasist. What was it like to again take the helm as director?

ROBIN HARDY: I have been a director on and off all my life. Documentaries in the 60s. Commercials and TV drama into the seventies. Then, after The Wicker Man – film distribution of the film. Spent years doing that. But always having the chance to be in CONTROL of my own thing. I have never stopped doing that. And every now and again that Control is Directing a film. Doing the Fantasist was pure fun. There is a scene in it of which I am particularly proud and where my camera operator made an amazing contribution. Days like that make up for a lot of the unquestionably challenging, often unrewarding, time in the Indie film business.

FEARS: You’ve said the “the horror genre is in search of a new style.” Obviously there is the visceral element of horror that appeals to our primal nature, evident in the continued growth of the Halloween holiday and the success of haunted attractions. On the other hand, there is the story telling tradition that harkens back to stories told around the fire to the tales of the Brothers Grimm. Wouldn’t you say that “characters drawn into a seemingly friendly, hospitable” situation “in which something frightful is going ion underneath the surface” is a universal component of the storytelling tradition?

ROBIN HARDY: It certainly is ONE OF the popular plot lines. Little Red Riding Hood however does seem a natural victim as soon as she comes whistling through the wood and well before she sees the wolf in Granny’s clothing.

Somerset Maugham said no new story is really good and no good story is really new. The trick is not the newness of the story but in the newness of the way it is told. Where a familiar story is turned upside down by a twist which is totally off the wall – that’s fun for the storyteller and audience alike.

altFEARS: The Wicker Tree is “rate R for sexuality, nudity and violence.” However, it’s not a really a violent film. In fact, “Indiana Jones & the Temple of Doom” was a more violent film. There are several scenes in the story where you could have been a tad more graphic and shown a bit more blood but you choose not to. I was wondering why you didn’t push that a tad more.

ROBIN HARDY: I have a great belief in the power of the imagination. To force an audience to imagine the evisceration of lovely young woman. Her eyes – ” a lovely color” the cook describes them, being removed and matched in glass while her gaping bloody eye sockets gaze blindly at you is a scene to turn your head away from but you would be surprised how often someone will tell you they DID see that when you know they didn’t.

But they were imagining much more than that. Evisceration, blood pumping everywhere. but to actually show it most audiences feel embarrassed as if they are watching a kind of pornography. Are there audiences who would virtually jerk off to that if totally explicit? I guess there are but I don’t want to make films for them. Disturbing people in their dreams is one thing. Exciting their very gonads is another business altogether.

FEARS: How pivotal was it to have screen legend Christopher Lee be a part of this film?

ROBIN HARDY: Fans are sentimental. So am I when it comes to listening to that unique voice. The scene helps to place the Laird in the context of the story. It also leads to a really useful piece of dialogue : “If I am a Rabbi, Jehovah is my God. If a Muslim, Allah the merciful is He, if a Christian – Jesus is my Lord. But here in Tressock the religion of the Celts serves us well. What more can you ask of a religion ?”

Christopher pondering the eternal question about fate – sets up that scene as few other actors could. The fact that we cannot be quite sure who he is helps.

FEARS: In the notes it mentioned that you created several historical attractions. I was wondering if you experience with those projects aided you in creating the sitting for The Wicker Tree?

altROBIN HARDY: My creation of an historical attraction called The Spirit of Scotland has been helped by making The Wicker Tree, working in a house, parts of which date back to the fourteenth century. But of course nearby Edinburgh is stuffed full of inspiration as is the landscape that once served as a base for the world’s first Industrial Revolution. The Spirit of Scotland too, I am glad to say, will be furnished with many glimpses of exciting new
developments: The race that gave us the telephone and the television have stacks of new things to offer.

The Wicker Tree is partly, obliquely about the death of organized, traditional religion in an advanced western nation and the serious consideration of nuclear as their savior in the future.

FEARS: There numerous technical advances in the industry over the years. Did you find it was easier, or that the advances let you focus more on the craft of making your film, then your last directing experience?

ROBIN HARDY: I imagine you are particularly referring to the use of CGI and the digital Red cameras we used. There is no question that CGI was useful mainly because it cuts corners. Strange to say, there was hardly an effect that we achieved in The Wicker Tree that we could not have done in the seventies by other means at a fraction of the cost. With the heartfelt agreement of both my Director of Photography and my Editor we are going to shoot The Wrath of the Gods (my next film) on 35 mm film. Never again will we have to put up with sundry microphones dangling into shot or generator trucks sitting on the horizon because, “you can always remove it later with CGI.” Yes you can. But with a moment or so’s effort you can save real money down the line by doing each scene as near to “for real” as you can

FEARS: The film business has certainly become more complicated over the years, and I feel the multiple delivery platforms are alienating the audience a bit these days. Do you feel it is harder or easier to reach an audience today?

ROBIN HARDY: I suppose I think the problem with multiple platform is that the story you view through a virtual keyhole has to be very different from the one that is at it’s best seen in the Odeon Leicester Square. Tony Shaffer’s Sleuth worked wonderfully well in a legit theater and only just worked with Olivier and Caine in the cinema.

When Kenneth Branagh re-set it in Pinterland it didn’t work at all. Those are dramatic considerations, comparing media – theatre and film. But would it work in 3D ? Or pixilated ? That way madness beckons. There must be an IDEAL medium for each story. Search it out that IDEAL medium – and use it. Ignore the fact that it is the latest thing or the oldest thing. Does it work for the story ?

FEARS: Given you experience in the commercial arena I was wondering if you also worked on the marketing and advertising aspect of this project?

ROBIN HARDY: I wish I had been given a chance to do that. But this is a highly compartmentalized business and that is not the custom. As they used to say when we were all ‘highly unionized’, and I, as director, moved a prop ; “keep out of my rice bowl, guv.”

FEARS: When you consider the different aspects to The Wicker Tree, is the audience to view this simply as an entertaining genre film or are you hoping they come away with something more?

ROBIN HARDY: A good deal more I hope.

FEARS: It’s been almost 20 years between film projects, based on this experience and changes in the industry/technology is their a project you might take up again in the near future?

ROBIN HARDY: “The Wrath of the Gods.” my next auteur effort – to be shot mostly in Scotland but party in Los Angeles. Third and last film in The Wicker Man trilogy. Please watch this space.