The Wicker Man can also be watched as a challenge to orthodox religion – not least when Lord Summerisle defends his pagan ethos by wryly questioning Howie’s Christian worship of “the son of a virgin impregnated by a ghost”. Or perhaps it’s the first mockumentary in British cinema history, given an opening credit offering thanks to Summerisle residents “for this privileged insight into their religious practices and for their generous cooperation in the making of this film”.
“The Wicker Man is many things,” says David Bramwell, who created the Sing-a-long-a-Wicker Man film nights in 2009, and claims to have seen the film more than 150 times. “I think sometimes a film surprises us – films that manifest and we don’t really know where they’re from,” he said. “They seem out of place and time, and hold up because they’re not referencing anything around them.”
It’s a film that plays with audience sympathies, too. “The first time you watch The Wicker Man you can identify with Howie’s plight because we’ve all been in situations we don’t understand, we don’t have control over,” says Jamieson. “But it rewards repeat viewing, too, because once we know the answer to the enigma, we can go back and take pleasure in looking for all the moves on the board.”
Afterlife of a masterpiece
One of the most remarkable aspects of The Wicker Man is the soundtrack, whose beautifully skewed folk songs sound ancient despite being composed on the spot by Paul Giovanni, a US writer and actor who had limited knowledge of British folk music.
Adding to the film’s mythology is the lack of any recording of its magical soundtrack for many years. In fact, the whole film languished in relative obscurity for well over a decade after its release. That changed in 1988, when a late-night BBC arts series called Moviedrome began its mission to spotlight interesting cult films with a programme that was followed by the first British TV showing of The Wicker Man.