Film: Pagan bangs and twangs

`The Wicker Man' soundtrack is available after 25 years.

ITS STAR, Christopher Lee, described it as "the best-scripted film I ever took part in", and in his wonderfully titled autobiography, Tall, Dark and Gruesome, hinted darkly that its surplus footage had eventually ended up as roadfill near Shepperton. Rod Stewart allegedly tried to buy and destroy it to prevent the naked cavortings of his then girlfriend, Britt Ekland, receiving further exposure. More recently, those arch pastoralists, Scottish rock band Teenage Fanclub, have covered a tune from it, and their leader Norman Blake even named his daughter Rowan after the character whose supposed disappearance triggers events. But it is only now, 25 years after its original cinema outing (as second feature to Nicolas Roeg's Don't Look Now - an unsettling evening out) that the soundtrack to The Wicker Man has been released.

It is indisputably the strangest cinematic tribute to paganism ever produced in this country, with Edward Woodward's rigidly Presbyterian policeman, sacrificed to fire in a fertility rite. Written by Anthony Shaffer, better known for Sleuth and Frenzy, the film has long been clouded in mystery, hindered by distribution and ownership problems out of its creators control, and subject to dramatically differing cuts.

Jonathan Benton-Hughes of Trunk Records is responsible for bringing the soundtrack to the public's attention. Trunk have achieved recognition for their compilations from the Bosworth Music Archive, with tracks created as incidental music using the most advanced techniques the sixties could offer. Never before available, many of these snippets are already becoming familiar through the sample hungry world of dance music. Benton-Hughes, deeply into soundtracks and other memorabilia, found the challenge of The Wicker Man irresistible, and took over two years to untangle the legal minefields involved, just pipping some rather larger players. "So many people after it", he says, "Even private detectives were involved."

But mere business was hardly the motivation. "It's a little monster, mate. It's been under my skin for a few years now," he admits. "I saw a video of the Alex Cox cut for BBC2 a few years ago, and I thought it was great, the most peculiar thing I'd seen for ages. It had all these noises, twangs and boings. Then there's naked women in graveyards, and the music is fab." He shrugs, as if to say: "what more could you want?". Certainly, the soundtrack, produced by Paul Giovanni, an American devoted to the idea of representing the isolated island community of the film through accurate local music, is a true oddity. Alongside incidental noises, it includes lovingly crafted faux-traditional folk numbers like "Corn Rigs" (based on a Robert Burns poem), the gorgeous "Willow's Song" (mimed by Ekland in the film to a vocal by someone only remembered as a "young girl we found in London"), and the climactic version of the genuinely ancient "Sumer is ecumen in", complete with the sound of conflagration. Not really a collection of songs like modern soundtracks ("They date movies horribly"), but more an evocation of plot, the record works just as well as an ambient piece.

With events such as the annual lighting of a similar figure at Glastonbury and America's Burning Man event in the Nevada desert, such rites seem more contemporary than ever. Perhaps on its 25th anniversary we might even get to see The Wicker Man back on the big screen at last. And if you should find yourself in the Machars peninsula in Southwest Scotland, apparently part of one leg still stands, opposite a caravan site. Paganistically enough.

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'