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"The Wicker Man" DVD release reviewed by Karl X

THE WICKER MAN. Dvd Region 1
Plus 11 mins of never seen before footage.
Dir: Robin Hardy
O.S.T by Paul Giovanni

A cult film of some standing, The Wicker Man is as remarkable for its troubled history as for its highly original text. Butchered to 84 minutes for a low-key double bill release, the original elements are said to have been dumped in a landfill somewhere underneath the M3. As the film's reputation grew, so did the legend of what scenes had been lost forever, and how they might transform the meaning of the film. One musical number, 'Gently Johnny', was lost in this editing carnage. Thankfully, before the film's release, a near-complete one-inch telecine tape had been sent to American cult director Roger Corman and he had kept it. Though comparable to VHS in quality, the tape facilitated a restoration of so many scenes that could only be talked about before. The Wicker Man has arisen, though it seems there are still lost scenes and buffs continue to hope for the recovery of yet more elements.

What makes The Wicker Man distinctive as a horror film is that, apart from the film's wrenching climax, it is actually not frightening for the balance of its run time. There are no monsters. There is no supernatural force. No one is getting murdered - at least not until the end. There aren't even any evil people, really. Just frightened ones. Superstitious ones. This is a film that simply explores a tantalising 'what if' - what if there was an island somewhere where the people still believed in Pagan gods and, out of fear, the need for a dreadful human sacrifice should the harvests fail. The film never suggests that their rites really do awaken any force. It simply observes the obsessed enactment of their superstitions - to lure a Christian virgin to an awful burning sacrifice.

In line with this distinction, the music is no James Bernard gothic score. It is a score of Celtic flavoured songs written by Paul Giovanni and performed by an ensemble of traditional players collectively known as Magnet. These songs depict the culture and traditions of the Pagan community of Summerisle how the death of men leads to the trees; in which women skip over fires in the nude as a fertility rite.

The result is an original, unusual, quite extraordinary kind of film music, especially for a so-called horror film. The pleasures are not those offered by, say, The Omen, or Dracula. The music pleasures are perhaps closer to other Celtic albums, music for lyres, acoustic guitars, recorders, and single violins. The pleasure of the lyric is their context with the film. 'Sleep close, and fast,' sing the words as the burning approaches. 'Summer is a-coming', they celebrate as the burning begins. To some extent, even by re-using the Oranges and Lemons tune in the track Chop Chop, the music points to the superstitious origins of many a traditional children's song, and many of our own seasonal traditions.

Clearly, the score is not exclusive to songs. The incidental music is sparse, but effective. 'The Procession' is a soothing medieval march; and the closing 'Sunset' is haunting, juxtaposed with the vision of the sunset that closes the May Day processions in which virgin Christian Howie, separated from his unknowing loved ones, burned in the island's eponymous Wicker Man.

This is the first stereo release of the original album mix prepared, but abandoned and thought lost, by the now deceased Paul Giovanni. A previous compact disc used a mono music and effects track probably lifted from the 84-minute version of the film and thereby explaining the missing 'Gently Johnny' number. Just as the film has been restored, now so has the music. Silva Screen's presentation is remarkable. Detailed liner notes are highly informative, perhaps a little disjointed by the over-use of bracketed side comments, but nonetheless entertaining.

This is a magnificent presentation of a highly important and unusual film score that should earn new appreciation for the music of Paul Giovanni. The two disc come delightfully encased in a Wicker Man flamed stained presentation box, a must for any Wickerette.

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