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I'm starting to despair a little of ever getting time to write up my recent holiday spent touring around Wicker Man filming locations in Scotland with thanatos_kalos. It's partly busy-ness, and partly of course the fact that such things are rather more fun to do than to write about. But maybe I can get the juices flowing a bit by writing up my impressions on watching the film at the start and end of the holiday?


3a. Before

The 'before' viewing actually took place on the first evening of the holiday, in our room at the Ellangowan Hotel in Creetown. As they proudly explain on their website, this was used as the interior location for the Green Man pub where Howie stays in the film, although a different location in a different town provides the exterior. We arrived there around 7ish I think on our first day, checked in, had some (very nice) dinner in the famous bar, and then retreated upstairs to get ourselves in the mood for the rest of our holiday by watching the film that it was all about.

I've said before that part of the reason I love The Wicker Man so much is that it is so rich and detailed, particularly in its world-building for the island of Summerisle, that you notice something new in it every time you watch. I've easily seen this film 20 times in my life by this stage (three of which were on big screens at the cinema), but this is still true - although I think it is fair to say that the stock of new things for me to notice is getting pretty low now.

Nonetheless, this time I did notice something new - which was that the pilot seen flying the sea-plane in long shots not only isn't Edward Woodward (which I expected), but also has a moustache which is clearly visible through the windows of the plane (which I didn't). Honestly, could they not have paid the man an extra fiver to shave it off in order to help preserve the illusion that he was really Sergeant Howie? Other than that, I simply enjoyed rediscovering the characters and the world of the film, which I actually haven't seen now for a good six or seven years I think, and trying to fix clear images in my mind of the various locations which I knew we would be visiting in the coming days.

I did find, though, that the re-watching (coupled of course with the general rediscovery prompted by our holiday) had reawakened all sorts of questions in my mind about the fine details of Summerisle life and society, which generally bubbled to the surface in the days which followed as I was driving around in the car with thanatos_kalos. Such as, in a world so obsessed with fruitfulness and reproduction, and with Lord Summerisle so keen on maintaining his status as the dynastic Laird of the island, where is his heir? Or, given that the school register in Miss Rose's classroom shows that all the girls in the room are 13 or 14 years old, what happens to girls younger and older than them? Don't they go to school - or are there in fact other teachers on the island besides Miss Rose and her male counterpart in the next classroom? Also, given that Ingrid Pitt's character has her Polish accent, has the island allowed some carefully-limited programme of immigration at some point in its past?

From one angle of course, these questions stem from holes in the world-building, but from another it is a testament to how strong and detailed that world-building is that it seems natural or worthwhile to ask them. And indeed all of them can plausibly be answered. Lord Summerisle's upper-class English accent speaks of a family upbringing which is quite strongly segregated from the rest of the islanders, so it's quite easy to imagine that he has a son away at University, studying the latest advances in botany / agriculture in preparation for his role as the next Laird. By contrast, it's clear that the rest of the islanders are quite deliberately kept in ignorance of modern rational thinking, so perhaps children on Summerisle only go to school in Miss Rose's classroom for one day a week, grouped according to their different age-bands, and help out with the farming / fishing / domestic chores on the other days? And Poland (like many Eastern European countries) has its traditions of Slavic paganism, so maybe Ingrid Pitt's character was a pagan believer carefully selected by Lord Summerisle as a suitable candidate to come and live on Summerisle when he was in need of a new registrar (and none of the current islanders would do due to their inadequate education)?

Whatever the answers, I'm sure that the capacity for such questions is a lot of what I love about this film.


3b. After

And of course I also needed to re-watch it again after I got back to Leeds, to see how it now looked in the light of my new knowledge of the locations used. The answer is (as I hoped) yet richer and also fresher than it had been before. Certainly, if you've long loved the film but might just possibly have ever so slightly over-watched it, touring around the filming locations is a great way to reinvigorate your love affair with it.

I did wonder whether it might shatter the illusion of Summerisle a little to go and see all the places which it had been stitched together out of for the film, but actually it didn't at all. In fact, I think it made it seem all the more realistic, because part of what I had found out over the course of our holiday was just how profoundly the construction of Summerisle is informed by the real landscape on which it draws - including the weather (at least during the week we were there!), the small close-knit local communities and the prevalence of sun-symbols, green men and the like all over the place. Watching it with a wider knowledge of the context for the individual buildings and locations used just made it seem all the more as though it were set in a slightly blurry, composite version of the real world of western Scotland.

Of course, this is another reason why the film's world-building is so effective - because it is grounded in a real and distinctive landscape and its communities. And it certainly gave me a new-found respect for the contribution which good location scouts can make to the success of a film (or TV show of course). Given that it took us a full week just to visit every location used, when we were pre-equipped with full information about where they were and a trusty sat-nav to do the navigating for us, I can only imagine how long it must have taken the location scouts to ferret out and select the right locations to tell this story, Anthony Shaffer and Robin Hardy to build the feel of those locations effectively into the story, and the production managers to organise the shooting schedule around them.

The experiences of our holiday added little personal details to my re-watch as well. We didn't actually meet anyone who'd been in the film themselves, but a woman out walking on Burrow Head, where the climactic burning scenes take place, and who helped us to find what remained of the wicker men up there, talked to us about her memories of the filming, and how she knew several people in the final cliff-top scenes. Another lady in Plockton who helped us to find the Harbour Master's house (seen when Howie first lands his sea-plane off the coast of Summerisle) not only turned out to live right next door to it, but was also the daughter-in-law of a lady seen spinning in the chase scene when Howie is desperately trying to find Rowan Morrison before the May Day procession. And when Howie heads out of the bar in the Green Man to go upstairs to his room there, I can attest that he really does set off in the direction which leads to the stairs and the guest-rooms in the Ellangowan hotel, exactly where we ourselves stayed for the first three nights of our holiday.

The only scene in the film which now feels a bit weird in the light of my knowledge of the real-life locations is that very chase sequence, because it sees Howie dashing around from property to property between places which I now know are one minute in a variety of towns around Dumfries and Galloway, and another minute up in Plockton, which is right next to the Isle of Skye and a good 6-7 hours' drive away. It now seems to me to be a very long and arduous chase indeed, yoyoing up and down between two completely different parts of the country as it does. Other than that, though, as I say the world of the film feels all the richer and deeper to me now that I have actually visited it.

I promise that I'll put up some of the pictures from our holiday shortly in their own post, but for now I will just share my own favourite photo of the week, taken by the lovely thanatos_kalos. I am sitting on the wall outside Anwoth Old Kirk in bright sunshine, just like the musicians in the may-pole scene from the film. I think it very well captures how vivid the experience of going to these places is - and how much the weather did to contribute to the requisite summery atmosphere! Do feel free to compare it to the Youtube video of the relevant scene, below:

Me on the wall at Anwoth Old Kirk




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Comments

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
steepholm
Mar. 23rd, 2013 11:34 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much for posting this. I envy you your adventure, and your stay at the Green Man! This film struck hard and deep with me too, as I think you know. Can't wait to see the rest!
strange_complex
Mar. 23rd, 2013 11:42 pm (UTC)
Thanks! It was a most excellent adventure indeed, and if you love the film I can highly recommend it. I'll try to include some tips on how to go about doing the same thing when I post more about it.
ms_siobhan
Mar. 25th, 2013 03:13 pm (UTC)
Is Mr Lee's tweed jacket on show in a glass case somewhere? if not I feel it ought to be somehow :-)

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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