This is a film I have always loved, and apart from Edward Woodward's characters demise, burned alive in a giant wicker man figure, I've never understood why it was classed as a 'horror' movie.
The rest of the film is a wonderful imagining of a Pagan community, where the Scottish islanders are brought up in their ancient beliefs, to understand the turning of the seasons, the old gods and old ways. The music and songs add enormously to the atmosphere of a community in harmony with each other and nature, with the jarring note being the christian virgin police sergeant, who cannot understand the beliefs, or sexuality openly expressed by all islanders.
It was made in 1973 and is very much of its time, with naked girls dancing around a fire and singing 'Take the flame inside you, burn and burn below, fire burn and fire turn, make the baby grow.'
The landlord's daughter, played by Brit Ekland with an obviously dubbed voice, is the epitome of female sexuality, and referred to as the goddess Aphrodite, by Lord Summerisle, a suave Christopher Lee.
I have always loved folk songs, and do sing to amuse myself, so the many songs which link through the film are a real joy. I think the first time I watched the film I focused so strongly on the Pagan elements and the music, that the story barely impinged. I have since read the book by Anthony Shaffer and Robin Hardy, Shaffer wrote the film and Hardy directed it, which I enjoyed but had nowhere near the impact on me that the sound and visuals of the film did - and did again last night.
I love the idea that the children are taught that there is no death, but that the spirit carries on and goes into the hares and other creatures in nature.
The eternal cycle of existence is expressed in a song sung while the young boys are dancing around the Maypole, which the girls are being taught is a symbol of male sexuality and the erect phallus.
In the woods there grew a tree
And on that tree there was a limb
And on that limb there was a branch
The song continues to a nest with an egg, containing a bird, a feather becomes a bed, where a couple conceive a child who grows and dies, and on his grave there grew a tree, and the cycle starts and goes round again, eternally.
I read that Shaffer and Hardy raided the book 'The Golden Bough' by J G Frazer, a monumental work of comparative mythology and folklore, and took chunks from here there and everywhere. Which put the hackles up of some people.
The film was not a commercial success when it was first released, and suffered from being hacked rather than cut. The general public didn't understand it (hardly surprising) but it did gain a cult following (again hardly surprising).
It has been slated over the years for various reasons, some decry its openly sexual nature, some that it is too Pagan, others that it is not accurately Pagan enough.
Frankly I love it, apart from the final burning scene - and my main objection to that is the animals and birds fastened in the Wicker Man, go ahead and burn the christian (they've burnt enough Pagans, the Goddess knows), but don't harm the animals!