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I had a pretty epic day yesterday, going down to London for a second crack at the British Library's utterly excellent exhibition, Terror and Wonder: the Gothic imagination, followed by giving a talk on Augustus in the medieval period to a 200+ audience at the British Museum as part of a joint Roman Society / Association for Roman Archaeology conference. Both of those deserve posts in their own right, really, but between them they left me knackered to the extent that I didn't wake up until almost noon today, and meanwhile what I actually want to do with the tiny fragment of the weekend which remains to me is write about this interactive film screening which I attended with the lovely Andrew Hickey and magister on Thursday. So there it is.

Obviously, I have seen this film a few times before (previous LJ reviews are collected in the 1970s section of my Christopher Lee film list), including four times on the big screen. But it's one I will never knowingly miss in any format, still less an interactive sing-along version. So it was with high excitement (and only moderate transport-related shenanigans) that I made my way to the Holbeck Urban Ballroom with two equally enthusiastic friends - and we were not disappointed.

The full experience actually involves quite a lot more than merely singing along. On entrance, we each received not only a pagan 'hymn book' containing all of the lyrics for the film's famous songs, but also a goodie bag containing a special selection of items for later use. The point of these was to eat or do appropriate things mirroring what was going on screen at various stages during the film, and as it happened I was accidentally given two of the bags as I went in. Although I declared this fact very honestly, the chap giving them out advised me to keep quiet about it and waved me through, so I was able to bring my second goodie bag home at the end of the evening and photograph its contents. In the order in which were instructed to use them (left-right, top-bottom), these were as follows:

Sing-along-a-Wicker-Man goodies

And their purposes were:
  • Smartie - communion wafer from Howie's scene in church on the mainland
  • Shoe-lace - the poor wee lass's navel string
  • Lollipop sticks - for re-consecrating the abandoned church adjoining the graveyard
  • Frog - for curing our / Myrtle's sore throat
  • Crispy bacon - one of the foreskins from the chemist (yum!)
  • Foam banana - the closest available approximation to the apple which Howie munches while Lord Summerisle is showing him around his gardens
  • Smiley sticker - for anointing each other ready for sacrifice in the Wicker Man
I think you can already see from the list alone a) how much fun that was but also b) how it actually really did work to blur the distinction between audience and characters, making us feel on some level like we were participating in the action of the film. The singing, of course, did the same - and that, too, was more than just singing. In a warm-up session beforehand our hosts, David Bramwell and Eliza Skelton (daughter of Roy), talked a bit about the film and some of its lore, and got us laughing along at some of the stories about it - like how Lindsay Kemp (who played the landlord, Alder McGregor), stormed off down to London part-way through the production, and had to be sweet-talked back by Robin Hardy and Anthony Shaffer. We then collectively learnt the right actions for the Maypole dance, and got our singing voices in gear by singing 'Gently Johnny' to their live accompaniment (on the grounds that it wouldn't be in the film itself, as we were going to watch the short version). Then, as the film played, David and Eliza held up signs telling us when to sing each 'hymn', when to eat our goodies, and when to hold up our hand-bags in tribute to Lindsay Kemp's flounce, as well as commenting on some of the film's incongruities (like the bizarre rock guitar music used during the cave chase scene), and prompting us to join in with some of its big iconic lines - like Howie's screams of "Oh God! Oh Jesus Christ!" as he perceives his fate, or the islanders' communal prayers as the sacrifice is prepared. Also, every time Howie got his photos of Rowan Morrison out to show to people and ask if they had seen her, Eliza and David came up to the audience with copies of the same image, asking us to pass them around. You might think on a casual viewing that Howie only does that a couple of times during the film, but actually when you get passed the picture yourself too on each and every single occasion, it turns out to be six - by the last of which the thing itself had of course turned into a running joke.

Basically, it was all about a collective celebration of a film which (nearly) everyone there knew incredibly well and loved dearly. Just being part of such a cheerful love-in, surrounded by people who greeted all the best lines with the same enthusiasm as me, was fantastic fun, but the immersive experience of participating in so much of the action really did offer a new way of engaging with the world of the film that went beyond the surface tongue-in-cheek tone of the evening. You feel something more of Howie's helpless isolation in the closing scenes when, like him, you have just had your neighbour stick a yellow circle in the middle of your forehead, and a disturbing complicity with the villagers as you are belting out 'Sumer is i-cumen in' while he burns to death. And coming still relatively fresh from my Wicker Man holiday in 2013, so that I have recent memories of having actually stood at more or less every location used in the entire film, the two experiences together combined to make it all seem very, very real indeed.

Me walking along the sea-break at Plockton
Me walking along the sea-break at Plockton
Photo by thanatos_kalos

Sing-along-a-Wicker-Man tours the country regularly and widely, and I thoroughly recommend looking out for it if you are a fan. It would probably be better to catch it in spring or summer than autumn or winter if you can - though cold days and dark nights are generally very conducive to the watching of horror films, this viewing did drive home to me that The Wicker Man really isn't a winter film, and works best when the sap is rising. But any time is very definitely better than none.

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( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 2nd, 2014 08:59 pm (UTC)
How cool that you got an extra goodie bag so you could share it's contents with us all! It couldn't have gone to a better person. :)

Also, every time Howie got his photos of Rowan Morrison out to show to people and ask if they had seen her, Eliza and David came up to the audience with copies of the same image, asking us to pass them around.

I got woken up to about an hour of excited-hyper Andrewness when he finally came to bed at about one-thirty in the morning after getting back from Leeds and winding down a little. I think this must be when he brought one of the little photographs up to the bedroom with him, but anyway somehow it's ended up on his bedside table. I know this because that and every night since, when he turns on the lamp as part of his going-to-bed routine, he picks up the photo and waves it at me and says "Have you seen this guh-rull?" in an accent so bad it is truly painful. And every night I wince and ask him not to do that any more, and despair that he probably thinks I'm exaggerating for comic effect even though I really do want him to stop. :)

But it's all continued indication of how much he enjoyed the thing, and I'm glad of that!
Nov. 2nd, 2014 09:08 pm (UTC)
Hehe - I noticed that Andrew had carefully saved one of the pictures (as did I), and it's lovely to hear that he's still enjoying it. Mine will be getting stuck into my scrap-book this evening, as will the pagan hymn book and the non-edible contents of the goodie bag.
Nov. 3rd, 2014 12:50 am (UTC)
Ohmygod, how did I never hear of such a thing? I must see that next time it's on tour.
Nov. 3rd, 2014 09:20 am (UTC)
Hehe, yes - I made sure I included the information about the touring nature of the production with you very much in mind! They have a Facebook group for it, which I would guess is probably the best way to make sure you know when they are near you in the future.
Nov. 3rd, 2014 09:37 am (UTC)
Thank you!
Nov. 3rd, 2014 05:00 pm (UTC)
Eeee, I loved this post! I've got interactive movies on the brain since a friend of mine went to see a public showing of The Room in Seattle a few weeks ago and it sounds like SUCH FUN. I imagine that the people at the Wicker Man showing liked that film a lot more than, well, anybody likes The Room, but when a group is engaging in rituals together I reckon it hardly matters. :)

Nov. 3rd, 2014 10:22 pm (UTC)
I haven't seen The Room, but that description of the interactive showing sounds ace! I thought after the Wicker Man one that it must be awesome fun thinking up all the things to get the audience to do during the film as well. I would definitely love to sit around with my mates coming up with wicked plots for how to make people eat foreskins.
Nov. 5th, 2014 09:57 am (UTC)
You could totally arrange some interactive Draculas or other things with Christopher Lee in them, I bet. :)
Nov. 5th, 2014 10:03 am (UTC)
We discussed exactly this on our walk back from the HUB to the railway station after the show. :-) I reckon Dracula AD 1972 would work best for it, because it has in-story music (e.g. at the party at the beginning, during the ritual in the church). It also has scenes where people eat and drink things, like coffee or indeed a spliff in one scene! I guess for that you could use one of those sweetie 'sticks' which used to be called cigarettes but can't be any more due to Corrupting the Young. Indeed, all of this might furnish an excellent reason for re-watching the film - so that I can have fun plotting what I would do for an interactive version. :-)
Nov. 5th, 2014 12:21 pm (UTC)
Sounds like fun! It's not a film I've seen before, and this seems like a fun way to watch it.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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