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This was my third viewing of The Wicker Man this year (previous iterations reviewed here), my fourth on the big screen (one previous experience here; the other two were in Oxford before I had a livejournal), and my goodness-only-knows-how-manyth all told. But given that this is its anniversary year, that it's supposedly been restored to its 'original' form, that a bunch of lovely friends were going along to see it too, that the showing was followed by a Q&A session with none other than the director Robin Hardy, and that it all took place in this building...

The Stockport Plaza

...I was hardly going to miss out on the chance.

The showing was part of this year's Grimmfest, and constituted the northern premiere of the newly-restored, re-released version of the film. Despite the best advance efforts of a Facebook page to imply that this would include the lost cutting-room footage allegedly buried beneath the M4, what it actually is is a cleaned-up print of the so-called 'middle version' - that is, the version put together from an early preview copy sent to Roger Corman, and released in America in 1977 (there's a full explanation of all the different available versions here). So we got to see footage which I have never seen on the big screen before, or indeed at all in such a good-quality print, like the 'Gently Johnny' sequence, and that was good. Call me a curmudgeonly old grump, though, but as far as I'm concerned this is not the 'final cut' of the film. I care about story and character a lot more than I care about picture quality, and on that basis the only true version of The Wicker Man in my mind is the one which contains absolutely all of the surviving footage.

Curiously, such a cut doesn't actually exist, since despite its name the so-called 'long version' for some reason omits two key scenes which are present in the short and middle versions - a brief shot of villagers watering graves at night-time, and a longer scene (with dialogue) in which Willow brings Sergeant Howie a cup of tea the morning after her naked seduction dance. But even without those scenes (which we did get to see in Stockport), the long version is still in my view markedly superior to the middle version. It includes several scenes of Sergeant Howie going about his ordinary policing business on the mainland before he ever receives a letter about a missing girl on Summerisle, which I think do a lot to establish his character and build up sympathy with him before throwing him into the strange and alien environment of the island, and it also does not cut random lines out of some of the song sequences, completely throwing off the rhythm of the music. So I began the film feeling rather disappointed at the absence of the early mainland scenes, and continued in much the same state of mind throughout.

This is a pity, because I truly love this film, and wanted to enjoy it. I'm sure being stressed about my Dad, falling foul of Stockport's one-way system on the way there, and as a consequence missing the chance to eat properly before the film didn't help, but I would have liked to enjoy watching a restored anniversary version of what is still my favourite film of all time better than I actually did in practice, even if it doesn't contain absolutely all of the available footage. But there it is. I did at least enjoy seeing it with good friends, and the experience of sitting in a huge auditorium-full of people who laughed appreciatively in all the right places.

Afterwards, Robin Hardy was ushered onto the stage as promised for the Q&A session, and in fact it turned out to be his birthday that very evening. So we had the unexpected pleasure of singing 'Happy Birthday' to him en masse as he was presented with a cake. I didn't have particularly high hopes for the Q&A itself to be honest, as I have seen enough on-screen interviews with Robin Hardy already to be well aware that he is a rambling narcissist with a distinctly over-inflated view of his own contribution to the success of the film. Such he proved, with the result that only two audience members actually got the chance to put questions to him (both male, which rather annoyed me), and my raised hand with its attendant question about the way the real-life culture and landscape of Dumfries and Galloway had informed the film was overlooked. Oh well, I only really raised it because I knew it was likely to be the only chance I ever got to speak to Robin Hardy (who is 84 now) anyway. I already knew what he would be likely to say in reply from my own reading and my recent holiday touring around the filming locations.

I haven't yet bought the DVD of the restored version, and indeed am not sure I ever will given that the box set of the long and short versions which I already have includes every single second of footage it contains, albeit not always in such high quality. What I would buy is what I'll call the 'ultimate mash-up' version of the film - that is, all of the high-quality footage from this middle version, but supplemented with everything it doesn't include from the long version, and with the watering graves footage restored to its rightful context in the scene when Howie digs up Rowan's grave, rather than amongst the night-time orgy scenes which he sees during his first night on the island. That version could presumably be thrown together quite easily now by anyone with a bit of decent processing-power and some editing software (perhaps even including me if I could be bothered), so I am hoping it is only a matter of time before it becomes available. Then, then will I finally be satisfied... well, at least until any of that genuinely-missing cutting-room floor footage actually does turn up (I can dream!).

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( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 31st, 2013 09:43 pm (UTC)
I'm very jealous of your being at this event!
Oct. 31st, 2013 09:57 pm (UTC)
Yes, no - it was good. I'm rather sorry that my current family worries meant I didn't enjoy it as much as I might have in different circumstances, but it is still always nice to reacquaint myself with the fair people of Summerisle, especially on a big-screen scale. I certainly spent much of the following week humming the soundtrack to myself and wondering how the island might fare in the modern economy (would a switch from fruit to tourism be too much?). So I guess it did strike those same deep-down receptive chords in me as it always does, despite the circumstances.
Oct. 31st, 2013 10:11 pm (UTC)
Halloween Miscellany
User steepholm referenced to your post from Halloween Miscellany saying: [...] post about The Wicker Man [...]
Oct. 31st, 2013 11:42 pm (UTC)
What I would buy is what I'll call the 'ultimate mash-up' version of the film - that is, all of the high-quality footage from this middle version, but supplemented with everything it doesn't include from the long version, and with the watering graves footage restored to its rightful context in the scene when Howie digs up Rowan's grave, rather than amongst the night-time orgy scenes which he sees during his first night on the island.

I'd buy that!

(Here via steepholm. I have seen only the 99-minute "long" version of The Wicker Man, which I adored.)
Nov. 1st, 2013 10:07 am (UTC)
I'd buy that!

Exactly! I'm sure most Wicker fans would. Let's just hope StudioCanal some day recognise the demand.
Nov. 1st, 2013 12:43 am (UTC)
I was back at Stockport Plaza tonight, with many of the same people, so inevitably thought about The Wicker Man lots. :)
Nov. 1st, 2013 10:21 am (UTC)
Yes, that's partly what reminded me to write up this review last night. I would have liked to come along for the Vincent Price double bill, especially as my chums ms_siobhan and planet_andy were going anyway, but given that December is going to be so seriously disrupted by my Dad's operation, I am husbanding my resources a bit at the moment to focus on work. I might have come if I'd known they were going to play the Plaza organ, though!
Nov. 2nd, 2013 10:20 am (UTC)
Yeah, the organ was amazing. :) It was played between the two films, and even though we spent that time chatting and finding people we knew (a friend of diffrentcolours was there, and unsurprisingly James found people he knew; Andrew said it felt like the Fantastic Films Weekend), we kept looking at and talking about the organ, and The Phantom of the Opera because that's what the organist was playing.

Andrew and I will keep an eye out for what else might be on there; it's such a cool place and they do seem to show good stuff. Hopefully you can join us again some time.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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