Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Filling in the Blanks: The Wicker Man

Almost two weeks since my last post. Inexcusable. What have I been doing with my time? I'll tell you what; I got an early christmas gift from Amber. An iPod, a big ol' 160gig mammoth. Every moment of free time since then has almost completely been spent at my(kinda slow) computer importing my massive CD collection. As of this writing I have just begun the Ps. By the time I finish my main CD collection, and have moved on to soundtracks, rap, country & surf, and then move on to those CDs of Amber's that I want copies of, I think I'll have used up most of that space. With just a bit left over for MST3K episodes that I can watch while on the treadmill at the gym. Rest assured I've been stockpiling my posts, and although I haven't typed or posted any, I have several pages of notes. There should be a flurry of activity coming up, as soon as I'm done with my iPod project.

The Wicker Man is one of those almost inexcusable absences in my film-viewing career, made worse by the fact that I saw the remake first. This isn't the first time this has happened, in fact most classic movies that have remakes were seen this way, and normally I don't feel too bad about it, because I'm always sure to see the original shortly afterwards. But for some reason I've been slightly ashamed that I watched the Nicolas Cage remake before I watched the far, far superior original. Having seen the remake first, I was a tad surprised by the experience of watching the original. It turns out the remake, as inferior as it is, stays incredibly close to the original plot, so I was actually unsurprised by any of the plot twists. What was surprising was the context, which was completely different.

The original follows Sgt. Howie, a Scottish policeman as he investigates a missing child case in the private community of Summerisle. Although he was invited to the island(anonymously), he finds no help from the locals who treat him with fairly open derision, and deny the girl ever existed. The girl's mother(indicated by the letter Sgt. Howie received) claims to have no such daughter. On top of uncooperative villagers, the strictly Christian Sgt. Howie is vexed by the pagan lifestyle of the islanders, which includes plenty of casual sex, a complete disregard for all things church related, and a couple of folksy musical numbers. It's a credit to this film's inherent creepiness that that last part doesn't induce uncontrollable giggles.

There's not much I can add to the ever-growing library of dissections and reflections based around this movie, and I don't think I have much inclination to try anyway. The original Wicker Man served as a criticism of the Church and the draconian policies in effect in the UK at the time. Although now, several decades later, I have to admit I realized that intellectually more than I actually felt it. In fact I'm a bit surprised at how civil Sgt. Howie remains when confronted with so many things that go against his every belief. A friend commented on how the movie really makes you view the main character as an intruding asshole, stomping all over the island's religious practices, but my main question was why he didn't do it sooner, or freak out even more. My anti-church sentiments will automatically place my sympathies with those fighting against it, but in a fight this one sided I still felt sorry for Sgt. Howie. Remember: These people asked him to the island, mocked him, threw their beliefs in his face and tried to bait him throughout the film. I guess my problem here is that the pagan religion doesn't seem to be morally superior to the Christian religions. Although with the pagans there's plenty of naked Britt Ekland(ok, body double, whatever), so that does give it the edge.

The movie is creepy, however, and Christopher Lee is always awesome in everything he does, but rarely more so than in this film(although he doesn't have much screen time). And that's more than can be said about the recent remake, which, through one simple change, removes everything of value from the story. As I said, the remake is remarkably close in detail to the original, but it removes almost all of the sexual/pagan imagery and replaces it with some pretty serious misogynistic tendencies. Instead of pagans, the island is a matriarchy where the women run everything and the men are essentially animal labor. In case we don't get the symbolism, the island is famous for it's honey, and bees play an unfortunately major part in the films plot. To be fair, the original also had a case of on-the-nose symbolism with the pagan island famous for it's apples.

Much has already been made about the misogynism in the updated Wicker Man, in which literally every woman you see in the film is a controlling, murderous man-hating psycho-bitch. It's also been stated that the film would have been labeled misogynist even if the roles were reversed and the hero had been the lone female on an island full of men. That may be true, but it doesn't change the fact that this movie definitely has it's issues. There's no escaping the fact that The Wicker Man has nothing positive to say about women at all, and views them with nothing but contempt. Case in point; the montage near the end when Nicolas Cage finally cracks and begins randomly harassing and beating up the women he comes across.

There's a growing cult around this film, and I have to reluctantly admit I am a member. It's so bat-shit crazy, so mind-bogglingly silly that I have a good time whenever I watch it. There's that famous youtube clip which may go some of the way towards explaining my enjoyment of the film. There's also a pretty nifty rifftrax(downloadable film commentaries from Mike Nelson and a rotating cast of people, usually other MST3K members) available, and I'd heartily endorse following the links to both of those. Also, there's a pretty seriously awesome review over on the Onion AV Club, part of Nathan Rabin's My Year of Flops blog project, which dissects the appeal of this film far better than I could hope to.

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