The Wicker Man – Settling the Score by Gary Carpenter

1 09 2015

Gary Carpenter left the Royal College of Music in 1972 and strangely [or so it seemed to him at the time] found himself engaged as Associate Musical Director on the film The Wicker Man. Allan Brown’s recent book: Inside The Wicker Man – The Morbid Ingenuities [Sidgwick and Jackson] stirs some memories:

Wicker Man posterThe writer of The Wicker Man, Anthony Shaffer [more like Chauffeur, from the number of lifts he used to give us] drove around the film’s Scottish locations in an impressive Citroën/Maserati. In Allan Brown’s evocative, entertaining and erudite book, the crew remembers this car as a Saab. My memories of working on this film are distinct: this was my first job after college, it was the only feature I worked on for many years; I was young and impressionable; I had a lot of responsibility for the music when I hardly knew which way was up, and in any case, whoever forgets their first experience of being screwed?

The first thing to sort out is that the core group of musicians who played the music also appeared in the film and are duly credited – although the percussionist’s playing was not thought to be quite up to scratch for the soundtrack and he was largely replaced in the recording studio by Michael Fry. They are all still around, although only Peter Brewis [recorders, jew’s harp, harmonica, bass guitar, etc.], Michael Cole [concertina, harmonica, bassoon] and I [piano, recorders, fife, ocarina, Nordic lyre, etc.] still operate full time within the profession. We three were also recently graduated students of the Royal College Of Music, not the Royal Academy as Mr Brown asserts. All the London colleges of music were approached, by the way, but at that time, only the RCM had a careers officer who could implement a request, and even then, that institution felt [correctly, as it turned out] that the commitment would be more than a full-time student could deal with, so as a recent composition student, I was approached, auditioned by Paul, and engaged [for the princely sum of £35.00 per week] and I recommended and booked everyone else. The other three, Andrew Tompkins [guitars], Ian Cutler [violin], Bernard Murray [percussion] did not come from formalised musical backgrounds but were members of a folk rock band I was in at the time called Hocket. The confusion over the title of the ‘band’ in the credits [Lodestone orMagnet] is actually simply explained. We all thought it would be nice to invent a performing name for ourselves in keeping with the spirit of the film and settled on Lodestone which is the title for the earlier cut. We then discovered that there was already a band of that name so went for the nearest equivalent, Magnet, which superceded it in all subsequent versions.

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4 08 2015

There can be few, if any, film fans in the world who haven’t watched, at least once, a low-budget offering from Britain which popped up as a B-movie in 1973 – The Wicker Man. From these lowly beginnings, the film has steadily grown in reputation in the intervening years to become one of the principal cult movies of the last 40 years. Most aficionados are also aware that the film circulates in a number of different versions, but there is much confusion and misinformation about the exact differences between the various cuts. But first, let’s find out why more than one version exists in the first place…


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The Wicker Man: The Final Cut review

11 06 2015

Robin Hardy’s cult horror, starring the late Christopher Lee, still prompts shivers, says Tim Robey.

“Try everything once except incest and folk-dancing,” said the conductor Sir Thomas Beecham. Had he lived to see The Wicker Man, it would have backed him up on at least one of those counts. What a strange, singular film it still is: name another Scottish, island-set folk-horror musical with this kind of instant recognition value. Over the years, it’s become as cherished a cult favourite as Blade Runner, and equally subject to persistent tinkering, thanks to being shorn of various scenes for its original release, when it was put out as a B-feature after Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now.

Timed to coincide with its 40th anniversary, this so-called final cut claims to be the most complete version possible, but it isn’t the longest out there — some additional prologue scenes of Sgt Neil Howie (Edward Woodward) on the mainland were included on a Director’s Cut, but not here.

The materials for this hybrid version aren’t all consistently good, meaning a trade-off between the curiosity value of some rare sequences and the visual unevenness they bring along. No matter: the film’s driftier interludes, however raggedly psychedelic, remain crucial to its aura, one of hypnotically sinister good cheer.

Christopher Lee’s imaculately polite performance as the pagan ringleader Lord Summerisle, patiently explaining to Howie the very trap into which he’s being lured, holds up splendidly, as does Woodward’s prudish brand of Christian martyrdom. They’re essentially playing Dionysus, god of ritual madness, and Pentheus, stuffy voice of repression, in the only reimagining of Euripides’ Bacchae where you also get Britt Ekland jiggling around nude.

There are moments that still prompt shivers — the banally hideous sign of the Green Man pub, a missing photo of last year’s harvest festival on its wall — and the famous climax holds on to every shred of its unmatched, infernal power.

Christopher Lee died on June 9 2015, aged 93.

The Wicker Man film locations

11 05 2015

Yes, of course this is the 1973 original, not the recent, much-derided remake. Savagely cut down before release, and with some seriously shaky Scots accents, The Wicker Man has nevertheless achieved cult status since its initial release as B-feature with Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now.

Its success lies in the gameplaying of the clever plot and wicked script of Anthony Shaffer (who also penned Sleuth).


Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) is the puritanically Christian cop sent to investigate the disappearance of schoolgirl Rowan Morrison on a remote and lustily pagan Scottish isle. There is a real Summerisle, but it’s way to the north of where this movie filmed. The near-tropical (warmed by the gulf stream) island estate of Lord Summerisle (so kindly thanked in the movie’s credits – and as bogus as Eve Channing in Sleuth) is an amalgam of around 25 separate locations, all of them on the Scottish mainland.

The production was based at Newton Stewart, on the River Cree, north of Wigtown Bay in southwest Scotland.

The opening aerial shots were filmed en route to the Isle of Skye, though the harbour, where Sergeant Howie’s seaplane touches down, is way to the north of the main locations, at Plockton, a small town off the A890, at the mouth of Loch Carron, about 55 miles west of Inverness, on the west coast of Ross and Cromarty.

About 20 miles southeast of Newton Stewart, at Kirkcudbright on the A711, you’ll find the High Street Gallery, High Street, which became May Morrison’s post office and sweetshop, where Howie begins his search for the elusive girl. The bakery is the Harbour Cottage Gallery, Castlebank, off Harbour Square, Kirkcudbright.

Howie stays at the ‘Green Man Inn’, which is a conflation of two locations: inside it’s the Ellangowan Hotel, St John Street, Creetown, on the A75 southeast of Newton Stewart; the exterior is Cally Estates office, Gatehouse of Fleet, still on the A75 a few miles to the east. The strangely fey landlord (and unlikely father of Britt Ekland) is legendary mime artist Lindsay Kemp, who taught movement to singers David Bowie and Kate Bush.

The maypole dance, schoolhouse and the old deconsecrated kirk, where Rowan is supposedly buried, are at the village of Anwoth, just west of Gatehouse of Fleet.

Culzean Castle, a fine Adam house, just off the A719, twelve miles southwest of Ayr, is the exterior of Lord Summerisle’s (Christopher Lee) mansion . It’s open to the public from the end of March to the end of October. The interior, though, is Lord Stair’s Castle, near Wigtown a few miles south of Newton Stewart. This was a tad too grand for the film – Lord Summerisle’s palatial drawing room is Lord Stair’s foyer.

The tour of Summerisle’s lush garden is in Logan Botanic Garden, Port Logan, 10 miles south of Stranraer.

Howie finally tracks the elusive Rowan to St Ninian’s Cave, near the southern tip of the Machars Peninsula, off the A747. The wicker man itself was built on the Peninsula, the area of land between Luce and Wigtown Bays, south of Newton Stewart.

“Come, it is time to keep your appointment with The Wicker man…”

6 04 2015

“Come, it is time to keep your appointment with The Wicker man…” A 4 year search by TRUNK ended in permission to issue this awesome lost recording – the unholy grail of soundtracks.

The original music and effects tapes were found and carefully copied, and the LP release is an identical copy of the sounds found on these tapes.

The first black vinyl LP became “the most collectable record of all time” according to some journalists, with dealers selling it for £120 shortly after its release.

Reviews for this odd recording were phenomenal, and Christopher Lee sang “Tinker of Rye” down the telephone to us in the Trunk office.

Original pieces of wood from The Wicker man were sent to us, maps, photos, stories and more just kept coming in. Also included was a USA copy of the movie with 20 extra minutes of footage.

People were annoyed that “Gently Jonny”, sung by Paul Giovanni in the longer versions of the film was missing. It still is, and somewhere out there a master tape may be waiting.

The Wicker Man is a truly cult movie. It has an incredible following, a bizarre, almost unexplained history, and was the last great unreleased soundtrack of a generation.

Paul Giovanni was a genius, and may he rest in peace. As for the band, “Magnet”who played all the music, nothing is really known of them. They were chosen by Paul Giovanni from the Royal Conservatory of music, but that’s all that is know. As for the voice behind “Willow’s Song” nothing is known about her, no record exists of who she was or where she came from.

To my knowledge, a book just about “The Wicker Man” and the various mysteries surrounding it will be published in 2000, and when we hear more information it will be posted on this site. Or it might be done and curiously disappear on the way to this site.

One final useless piece of information on “The Wicker Man”… there are currently two women in Scotland who claim to be Britt Ekland’s body double in the film. Madness.

Britt Ekland

A SHORT POST SCRIPT: It is now 2006 and I think it’s about time for a post script. The first and original issue of this recording – the Trunk Records issue – has become a most collectable and massively influential LP. Even though another longer, but far more confused recording was issued featuring demos and different versions of some of the songs, a majority of the new later recording was taken from the original Wicker Man recordings we mastered from the music and effects tapes at Pinewood. Yes, I know it’s confusing. Anyway, the fact remains that had we not issued our recording it’s unlikely any further recordings would have come out. Also at the time bugger all people referenced The Wicker Man as an influence, and had you run a top 100 British films it would not have even featured. Now it’s constantly referenced and always hits top tens in British film making. It’s just a real shame that the creative musical pioneer Paul Giovanni was not around to benefit in any way.

Our recording was issued in 1997. Ten years later people some people are still a little jealous that we did it first and are more than happy to accuse us of bootlegging. We had the permission of the company who owned the film and paid all the relevant publishing we were asked to pay. What always gets forgotten is that when we had finished our run of albums, another company began bootlegging our CD. We never found out who they were. You will know one of these bootlegs if you find one, they are weird photocopied CDs with no 8 page booklets.

If you happen to be after a legendary Trunk Wicker Man vinyl album complete with hilarious spelling mistakes I suggest you look on ebay where they turn up occasionally.

Discussing The Wicker Man: Final Cut with Director Robin Hardy

9 11 2013

Update: While The Wicker Man: Final Cut tours the U.S. from Bellingham to Brookline (see link below), L.A. audiences are fortunate, as it’s just been announced that this Friday night, the first of November, legendary actress Britt Ekland — “The Landlord’s Daughter” herself! — will introduce the 7:30 screening at Landmark’s fabulous Nuart Theatre, plus she’s staying for a Q&A. If you miss this, you’re crazy.


Britt Ekland in The Wicker Man: Final Cut

We now return you to the original opening paragraph.

I get excited about movies, but rarely does a film astound me. Sinisterly exuberant, elegantly subversive, ravishingly eerie, hilariously chilling — I just can’t throw enough positive adjectival phrases at The Wicker Man: the 1973 masterpiece penned by Anthony Shaffer and magnificently directed by Robin Hardy. At the fore stands the world’s greatest actor Christopher Lee, in one of his career peaks (“the best-scripted film I ever took part in,” Mr. Lee says of The Wicker Man, in the 1999 edition of his autobiography); plus it features remarkable turns from Edward Woodward, Ingrid Pitt, Lindsay Kemp (who taught David Bowie and Kate Bush to dance), and the alluring Britt Ekland (whose dance herein could alter your worldview). Add the brilliant songs of Paul Giovanni and generous dollops of folkloric savvy, et voilà: perfection.

The trick is the treat.

The plot? I’m not telling. A cop searches for a missing child. Do not read synopses, don’t ask anyone about it, just see it. If for the first time, I envy you.

Truly, lucky you. In its unique blend of mystery, thriller, drama, comedy, social satire, and yes, even musical, this film practically reinvents the art form of cinema. Following years of butchered prints, short cuts, slightly-improved cuts, and missing shots, you get to experience The Wicker Man: Final Cut, director Hardy’s approved DCP restoration of his definitive version. This edit has been out of circulation since 1979, and recently scanned from a 35mm U.S. print discovered in the Harvard Film Archive. After being unceremoniously slashed in 1973 to fit on a double bill with Don’t Look Now, The Wicker Man: Final Cut celebrates its 40th anniversary in style. I spoke with Mr. Hardy, and asked him about the film’s origins.

“Tony Shaffer and I had been partners in the film company we owned for 13 years,” he relates. “We had facilities in Paris, Frankfurt, Milan and New York — headquartered in London. And we made dramas for television, and lots of very high-priced commercials all over the world.

“During that time, Tony and I, in our association, were very much — how can I saw, smitten, perhaps, is the right word — with a passion for games play. And this is a key that really very few people have understood about The Wicker Man — and maybe because they’ve never seen Tony’s play Sleuth: which preceded it, on the stage in London, and in New York.

“The games playing was part of our daily lives for those years. Every now and then he would play an enormous practical joke on me, and I would have to think of one to play back. This was all very good-humored, and sometimes I was furious at what he had done, and he was furious at what I’d done — but it kept us amused through all those years, and then the time came for us to start leaving the whole commercial/television scene, and move to features — and plays: he of course was very much influenced by the fact that by that time his twin brother was one of the most famous playwrights around (Peter Shaffer: Equus; Amadeus).”


Wicker Men: Producer Peter Snell, screenwriter Anthony Shaffer, director Robin Hardy
(from the autobiography of Christopher Lee)

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The director of 1973 horror film The Wicker Man has praised the work of Robert Burns and actor Edward Woodward’s Gaelic singing.

31 05 2013

Robin Hardy has written exclusively for Empire magazine about the feature, which has scenes shot in Galloway, Plockton and Ayrshire.

He said Burns’s Gently Johnny was the “perfect love song” for the film.

Hardy has also written about Woodward singing Gaelic songs for the cast and crew in evenings after shoots.

Writing in Empire, the director said the quality of Gently Johnny had been restored for the newly-released Blu-ray DVD version of The Wicker Man.

Hardy said: “We chose Celtic melodies where we could.

“Robbie Burns provided us with that perfect love song, Gently Johnny, which Paul Giovanni, our composer, himself sang, and Corn Rigs is the melody that takes us on our flight past the peaks of Skye to the palm-fringed coast of Summerisle.”

Croydon-born Woodward, who died in 2009, played police sergeant Howie, sent to search for a missing girl on the fictional island of Summerisle.

The Wicker Man was remade for a 2006 film starring Nicolas Cage.


Croydon-born Woodward sang in Gaelic in evenings after filming

In his article, Hardy said: “Edward Woodward, singing for us in Gaelic in the evenings, enchanting us with that beautiful mouth music – more than a mere film star, a superb actor.

“How seriously unwise for any other artist, even the talented Nicolas Cage, to try to give an encore as Sergeant Howie in the remake.”

Scenes for the 1973 feature were shot in Plockton in the Highlands, Culzean Castle on the Ayrshire coast, Logan Gardens in the Rhins of Galloway and Wigtown in Dumfries and Galloway.

Christopher Lee and Britt Ekland starred in the film alongside Woodward.

Hardy’s latest film, The Wicker Tree, has scenes which were shot in Dalkeith in Midlothian.

Released in 2010, its cast includes Brittania Nicol and Honeysuckle Weeks.

Glasgow-born Graham McTavish, who will appear in The Hobbit, also appears in The Wicker Tree.