Media Studies A2 Genre Study

HISTORIC TEXT 6 “The Wicker Man” (1974) Directed by Robin Hardy

What is the story behind “The Wicker Man”?
Anthony Shaffer was an established playwright and screenplay writer. Robin Hardy was a friend and first-time director. Schaffer and Hardy wanted to write a horror genre piece. They chose the notion of old religions (paganism) and sacrifice. Following a meeting with Christopher Lee, Shaffer and Hardy wrote the screenplay with Lee in mind for one of the lead roles. The film was produced by British Lion before it was taken over by EMI. Following the takeover, “The Wicker Man” was drastically cut because EMI hated the film. It was a box office failure, but has become more recognised in the past 20 years.

Intertextuality: is “The Wicker Man” a unique film in the genre?
It incorporates elements of musical, thriller and horror to create an interesting combination. It uses most of the cast from the Hammer Horror movies of the 60s and 70s to create expectations from the audience which it then sets out to destroy. It breaks a large number of conventions which had been previously associated with the genre.

Iconography: the imagery of religion and the wicker man itself
 The pagan religion in “The Wicker Man” appears

on some levels to be more tolerant than the Christianity portrayed in the film.  Both Lord Summerisle and Howie are staunch believers in the notion of religion; they simply believe in different concepts of God.  The Wicker Man itself is based on drawings from medieval scriptures, but the face of the structure has been removed to create a more iconographical image.  The climax is incredibly iconographic in structure. The sun god (Nuada) is seen beyond the Wicker Man as it collapses in flames.

Gender representations in “The Wicker Man”
 The women in “The Wicker

Man” are equal to the men in terms of their religious beliefs, and involvement in the plot to lure Howie.  The character of Willow is fundamentally important to the pagan rites of the island. She is just as calculating as all the men in the film.  The female characters are as sexually active as the stereotypical male of the genre.

 The female characters are

not sympathetically portrayed. Even the character of Mrs Morrison is lacking in parental concern.  The women are shown as attractive and alluring, making them rather onedimensional.  There is no evidence of female independent thinking; the women are always told what to do by the men.

Analysing the syntax: key scenes from “The Wicker Man”
Four influential sequences exist in the 1974 text “The Wicker Man”.
These are:

1. The opening section where Howie receives the note and arrives on Summerisle. 2. The conversation between Lord Summerisle and Howie. 3. Willow attempting to seduce Howie. 4. The May Day parade and Howie’ s meeting with the Wicker Man.

Watch these scenes again and deconstruct them, considering the following : Mise-en-scène, Cinematography, Representation, Audience, Narrative, Editing, Sound,

Is the ending of “The Wicker Man” intended to be positive or negative?
In pairs, spend 5 minutes discussing the ending of “The Wicker Man”. Do you think it is supposed to be a positive or negative ending? Why do you think that? When you have come to a conclusion, both of you should spend a further 5 minutes writing a short paragraph to explain your view and your reasoning behind it. As a class, everybody’s views will then be aired and discussed.

Is the ending of “The Wicker Man” intended to be positive or negative?
 The ending could be seen as positive because Howie

is martyred, and therefore suffers a saintly death to be born again with his Christian God.  Another positive element to the ending is that Lord Summerisle is warned by Howie that if his religious beliefs fail, he will be the sacrifice the following year.  One negative aspect of the ending is that the islanders win, and it could therefore be said that the movie suggests Paganism has triumphed over Christianity.  Another negative element is the musical number at the end, where it appears that the islanders see the murder of Howie as acceptable.

Strengths & weaknesses of “The Wicker Man”
1. “The Wicker Man” is a unique cinematic experience. 2. The film uses elements from a number of genres to create an unnerving atmosphere. 3. The ending is still surprising, and comes as a shock to the audience. 4. “The Wicker Man” uses characterisation very effectively in order to build up sympathies to make the ending even more effective.

1. “The Wicker Man” is directed with very little visual flair. 2. The film appears to be unsure of what it actually is. It contains so many elements that it may not even be a horror film at all. 3. “The Wicker Man” may be offensive to some religious groups. 4. The musical numbers could be seen as rather camp and unnecessary, perhaps undermining the human drama.

Practical Exercise: how was “The Wicker Man” produced?
You are going to watch a short 30 minute documentary on the making of “The Wicker Man”, which will enable you to gain further understanding of the problems encountered by the film both during and after production. Whilst watching the programme, you must use the worksheet you have been provided with to take notes from the content. You should concentrate especially on the issues discussed by cast and crew that you feel shed light on why the story of “The Wicker Man” is so unusual in the production of genre movies. Enjoy!

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful