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  1. #1
    Senior Member Country: UK DB7's Avatar
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    Countercultural conservatism ... Robin Hardy.



    Robin Hardy is best known for directing cult paganism thriller The Wicker Man. In fact, he's only known for directing The Wicker Man. So just what has he been doing with himself for the past 34 years? Zoe Williams finds out



    Wednesday May 30, 2007

    The Guardian



    The obvious question to ask director Robin Hardy is what he's been up to since 1973, which is when The Wicker Man was released. In the end, I did ask it, in a number of roundabout ways that were nothing like as rude as: "What have you been doing, man?" I didn't get an answer so much as an overall impression: of a person very intricately attuned to the kinds of things a sensitive nature might take pleasure from, roaming the world to find them. Part of me suspects that he's not actually a real person; he's been made up by The Fast Show. He's such a distillation of a social type: posh, mid-60s, too rational to take a position on anything (and also it would be vulgar), possessed of a sense of a perfect entitlement and perfect self-parody, interested in issues in a confident, Renaissance-man kind of way, with a benign, detached curiosity. You wouldn't stop to wonder whether you liked him or didn't like him; you'd simply surrender to his confidence.



    We met at a Chelsea townhouse-hotel with an eerie, frozen-in-time atmosphere. It's not the kind of place you'd expect a countercultural to stay, still less to have stayed so often that they know how he takes his whisky and which nuts he likes. Hardy isn't, as it turns out, a countercultural. The Wicker Man wasn't a countercultural film. Its cult status is misleading - it makes you misremember the whole experience. For all the strangeness, at its heart is, as its director intended, a rather conservative message: cults are dangerous, faith abides. But it wouldn't have survived in its popularity if it were that simple, and nor is it.



    The script was written by Anthony Schaffer, twin of Peter, also a playwright, and the pair roamed inseparably about the set: no doubting that Tony had written it, but Peter infused the atmosphere, writing the words to the songs, which his boyfriend, composer Paul Giovanni, then created. The soundscape is one of the most extraordinary things about the work, invoking paganism and, moreover, unease, more surely and deftly than any other aspect.



    There can't be many people who don't know what it's about, but just in case: a policeman is called to a remote Scottish island to investigate the death of a young woman. He arrives; the islanders, marshalled by Christopher Lee, lead him a merry dance. The place is awash with occult practices, there are songs and masks and masques and more songs, and Britt Ekland takes her top off, though the bit featuring a naked bottom is a body double (Ekland refused to bare hers on the basis that she "had a butt like a ski slope": nobody knows exactly what she meant). They are gearing up for the crowning ceremony, which centres around the eponymous Wicker Man, a giant man made of, er, wicker. Even at 34 years' distance, it seems a shame to spoil the ending, since it functions so well as horror, never mind the other significances that have been appended to it. If you really haven't seen it, then, look away now. The copper is burnt alive; there was never any virgin sacrifice, never anything for him to investigate. He is the sacrifice.



    There are countless readings of the piece, but Hardy shrugs off academic talk. "There have been so many books about the film, and there was an academic festival in Glasgow, for which I gave the keynote speech. And to tell you the absolute truth, it's very difficult not to howl with laughter most of the time. I mean, we had essays on The Wicker Man and Wittegenstein, The Wicker Man and feminism, and all sorts of things like that. It went on for days, and it took itself very seriously. It's peer pressure, I suppose. But it's so tiresome."



    It's ironic that a film expressing its unease with cults should become a cult in its own right. But so many myths and strange tales were thrown up by its making. When it was due to show in Cannes, the studio refused to send the print. In an attempt to discredit an outgoing executive, they had decided to bury it as a complete turkey, and in the end, it didn't get a British release except as a B-movie accompanying Don't Look Now, and wasn't released in America until the end of the decade. It would be hard to imagine a director weird enough to have made this bizarre film, but Robin Hardy is almost bizarrely conservative. The answer to "Where have you been since 1973?" is pretty much "The same place I was before" - running a company that makes commercials, and making a lot of money: hence America being his longtime domicile. "However much money we made - and we made lots - we had to give everything over £5,000 - well, 98% of it - to the British government. Not only that, they then quibbled with perfectly legitimate expenses. 'My God,' they'd say, 'you were staying at the Imperial hotel in Tokyo for three weeks, that must have been fun. We'll put that down as income.' So you then have to hire a QC and appear before your peers. I remember a wonderful scene when I had to go up to Birmingham. On the jury was a pharmacist and, I don't know, various other good burghers of Birmingham, and there was I, saying, 'You've no idea how awful it is in these hotels, you never know how long you'll have to wait for your laundry, you're away from your family . . . ' I could see it wasn't working." It's the self-parody that saves him. Otherwise he'd just be another obnoxious loaded person, whining about tax. "I had really very little choice, you know. I had eight children." Hardy has been married four times; his three previous wives predeceased him.



    He has only two other film credits. He wrote and directed The Fantasist (1986), about an Irish woman who finds herself drawn to a stranger who keeps calling her, even though he may be a serial killer. He also wrote 1989's Forbidden Sun, in which Lauren Hutton plays an Olympic gymnastic coach on Crete, one of whose female students is assaulted in sinister, ritualistic circumstances.



    Hardy is in Hay on Friday to discuss The Wicker Man and his new book, Cowboys for Christ, which he plans to make into a film (everything is in place but the money). We may be able to read it as a sequel to The Wicker Man, but it will make more sense as part of a looser trilogy, finishing with Twilight of the Gods, built around the Norse sagas in Iceland: "I'm very keen on it, actually." Cowboys for Christ, the novel, does frankly read as if written by someone visualising it as a film, though that's an observation more than a criticism. It's about a young American couple who arrive in a Scottish border town, part of a cult run by ... Christopher Lee. "Then we come to something that is actually quite amusing but true. There is a tradition among 10 or 15 little towns on the borders in Scotland, where once a year, usually around the summer solstice, they elect a young man - feminists are now saying it should be a young woman, or some such - and he's the brightest and the best-looking, and the cleverest, I suppose, and he appears in the centre of the town on his horse, with outriders, and he's had a lovely party the evening before with all the prettiest girls, and he then rides out of town, and everyone who has a horse or a pony or a carthorse rides after him." And then what? "Well, that's the point. There is the point. What they do is they have a lovely picnic. Not so ... in my book."



    Hardy denies that paganism is the uniting interest of his life. Scoffs at the idea. I'm sure he's right. He probably has many other interests - having children, for instance - that wouldn't make a film, but have been just as defining. Still, I think it's fair to say that paganism is a theme. And that's before he's even cracked on with the savage Norse.

  2. #2
    Super Moderator Country: UK christoph404's Avatar
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    Very nice piece DB7, cheers. Wasn't the Woodward character investigating the disapearance of schoolgirl Rowan, rather than her death? But I guess we all know the story.

  3. #3
    Senior Member Country: UK DB7's Avatar
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    To be honest I can't remember the mainland scene and the instructions given to Woodward. Strange how some directors (Bruce Robinson of Withnail?) can helm a crossover cult classic then slip into near obscurity.

  4. #4
    Super Moderator Country: UK christoph404's Avatar
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    name='DB7']To be honest I can't remember the mainland scene and the instructions given to Woodward. Strange how some directors (Bruce Robinson of Withnail?) can helm a crossover cult classic then slip into near obscurity.


    What I remember is Woodward arriving at the island and announcing to the grumpy fishermen on shore that he is looking for a missing person, he then shows them a photo of the girl and sets about trying to find her whereabouts. And yes I think it is strange that neither Hardy or Robinson followed up their success with more films, Im starting to think of other directors who have shone very brightly for one outing only.mmmm....food for thought indeed.

  5. #5
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    Interesting piece! I saw Wicker Man again recently having not watched it for a couple of years and as always, was struck by the sheer...well...class, apparent in every aspect. I don't think its hyperbole to describe Edward Woodward's performance as one of THE great performances in a British film.

  6. #6
    Super Moderator Country: UK christoph404's Avatar
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    name='dogstar']Interesting piece! I saw Wicker Man again recently having not watched it for a couple of years and as always, was struck by the sheer...well...class, apparent in every aspect. I don't think its hyperbole to describe Edward Woodward's performance as one of THE great performances in a British film.


    I agree, Woodward is a tremendous actor and comes across as a very nice person indeed in real life.Not that I have met him but whenever he is doing interviews or talking as himself he comes across as very genuine. He has on more than one occasion gone back to Scotland and walked into the pub that was featured in "The Wicker Man" for a pint and to say hello to the locals! Needless to say he is much admired and remembered there. I also thought "Breaker Morant" was a superb film, he seems very good at expressing restrained outrgage!!

  7. #7
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    Have only seen Breaker Morant once but like you, I thought it was excellent. I can still recall the mixture of moral outrage and sadness it evoked. Tremendous support from Bryan Brown and Jack Thompson too.

  8. #8
    Administrator Country: Wales Steve Crook's Avatar
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    name='christoph404']I also thought "Breaker Morant" was a superb film, he seems very good at expressing restrained outrgage!!
    "Shoot straight, you bastards - don't make a mess of it!"



    Great film



    Steve

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