How Not To Make A Cult Classic

“Inside The Wicker Man is a treat for all cinemagoers, exhaustively researched and achieving a near-perfect balance between history, trivia and serious analysis. Allan Brown describes the filming and distribution of the cult masterpiece as a ‘textbook example of ‘How Things Should Never Be Done’. The omens were bad from the start, and proceeded to get much, much worse, with fake blossom on trees to simulate spring, actors chomping on ice-cubes to prevent their breath showing on film, and verbal and physical confrontations involving both cast and crew. The studio hated it and hardly bothered to distribute it, but today it finds favour with critics and fans alike, as a serious – if flawed – piece of cinema.

Brown expertly guides readers through the film’s convoluted history, attempting along the way to explain its enduring fascination, and providing interviews with the key figures – many of whom still have an axe to grind, and some of whom still harbour plans for a sequel…”

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I’ve written previously about the 1973 film “The Wicker Man” which without doubt belongs in my top five films of all time. Well, I have just finished reading “Inside The Wicker Man – How Not To Make A Cult Classic” – a book all about the problematic making of the movie, written by Scottish journalist Allan Brown.

Originally published in 2000, I read the revised 2010 edition. Since publication of this edition Sir Christopher Lee passed away last year and a sort-of “sequel” mentioned in the blurb above has appeared with the release of Robin Hardy’s 2011 film “The Wicker Tree”. Hardy himself died earlier this year.

I haven’t previously read a book like this one. That is to say a book about the making of a specific film. I’ve read plenty of biographies that cover a multitude of projects but not one concentrated solely on one. As a result I can’t really compare the book to any similar works, so any observations are purely reactions to having read this one.

Allan Brown
Allan Brown

The first thing that struck me were the somewhat daft chapter descriptions, for example “Chapter 9 – Burrowhead : In which a goat urinates on Edward Woodward, and Anthony Shaffer threatens to burn some pandas”! I guess this is a reflection of the author’s sense of humour but, as I say, seemed a bit daft to me.

There’s a fair bit of detail relayed in the course of the book and it soon becomes clear that practically everyone involved – Shaffer, Hardy, Lee, Woodward, Britt Ekland, etc. etc. – have vastly differing views and memories of the whole experience. The most pronounced differences occur between the deceased pair of Shaffer and Hardy – former business partners who became rather adversarial subsequent to the making of the film – who seem unable to agree on anything and intent on taking the majority of the credit for themselves.

On balance, despite the feeling that the author has an agenda and is most definitely in the Shaffer camp, I’d have to say that given other testimony contained it seems probable that Hardy’s claims are the less likely. That would certainly go some way to explaining how someone who claimed to be largely responsible for “The Wicker Man” could go on the produce the rather poor “The Wicker Tree”.

The story of the genesis and making of the film, editing, marketing and distribution issues and problems that took place between 1972 and 2010 (plus a chapter on the near-comedy that is Nicolas Cage’s 2006 remake) takes up the first two-thirds of the book.

The Wicker Man Poster
The Wicker Man Poster

Following that are a number of appendices, of varying interest to this reader. The technical information on filming locations, scene by scene, and full cast and crew lists, for example, are all well and good but only really for reference purposes. An extract from Lee’s autobiography concerning the film is more interesting, but for me the most interesting appendix was the screenplay for Shaffer’s proposed sequel “The Wicker Man II”.

The premise is certainly interesting, and in its favour you’d have to say at least it’s not a simple retread like the aforementioned “The Wicker Tree”. There is an attempt to follow on the story from where the original film ended but I, and I suspect many fans of that film, find the addition of overtly supernatural elements and various folklore details from a variety of cultures alter the balance of the proposed sequel too much.

There is a tendency to repeat events and quotes – perhaps a result of the update? – and the timeline flits back and forwards rather confusingly sometimes, particularly with the very convoluted events once the film had actually been made. The author attempts to portray the film as something of a glimpse into the (in 1973) future, which I feel is far more coincidental than Brown seems to, but overall a decent read on an interesting subject matter…

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