I believe that the accepted reaction when one meets a personal hero is to sweat profusely, mumble and grin like a buffoon. At least, I hope that’s right because that is exactly what I did when I was lucky enough to grab fifteen minutes to chat with Robin Hardy, legendary director of The Wicker Man, at Grimm Up North 2011.
Hardy was in Manchester for a screening of The Wicker Tree, the long awaited companion piece to his 1973 classic.
So being the massive Wicker Man fan that I am and sporting a Summerisle t-shirt like the biggest geek alive, I sat down to talk with the impeccably attired octogenarian about his films, including the upcoming third instalment, and found him to be a real gentleman. At once charming, intelligent, witty and, as it turned out, happy to talk with me.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Robin for doing so.
AndyErupts – So why, after almost 40 years, did you decide now to return to the themes you explored previously with The Wicker Man?
Robin Hardy – Well, it’s not so much the themes that I am exploring in The Wicker Tree as the genre. It’s a mix of comedy, music, sex and ultimately, horror. Yes, there are some similarities, as it’s about Paganism and Christianity, but it has a different take on the people who are being led into the trap and it IS a trap again and the clues are evident along the line, perhaps even stronger than they were in The Wicker Man. It’s a game, as the first film was, and the audience become part of the detective process.
AE – Making them more complicit in the end?
RH – Oh yes.
AE – Were there any new ideas you were looking to explore with The Wicker Tree?
I think that romance is the extra element in this film. There are strong romantic elements. I had wanted to add that to make it more human for the audience.
AE – How has your approach to film-making changed since 1973, especially when you factor in the advances in technology?
RH – It hasnt made much difference to be honest. Ultimately, whether you shoot with a 35 mm camera or a red camera with 4 hard drives, doesn’t matter. There are more things you can do in the finishing nowadays but as far as im concerned, it’s become a slower and more ponderous process but you and the crew get over that. Like many complex technologies, their complexity stands in the way of spontaneity and like so much technology, the tendency exists to use it simply because it’s there. Like CGI. It is a nuisance and I do believe it affects the performance of the actors.
AE – Sir Christopher Lee. Was he always in mind? Had you stayed in touch?
RH – Oh yes, certainly. He had been waiting to do this film for a very long time but had a really quite bad acccident, where he injured his back, while filming in Mexico. I couldn’t put him in the original role I had wanted for him (the lead role that later went to Graham McTavish). He couldnt stand for very long and we certainly couldnt put him on a horse. The little cameo he has in The Wicker Tree is fine and I think it really helps the film.
(Of course, I had to ask a LITTLE bit about The Wicker Man)
AE – Why do you think The Wicker Man is still so beloved today? I don’t think it has really aged at all. Why do you think this is?
RH – Well, for a number of reasons. The fact that I set it on an island out of time and space, has helped. Also, the universal jokes in the film work just as well today. Its exciting and the performance between Edward (Woodward) and Christopher is amusing and witty. No more or less today than it was then, I think. The film is very well known in Scotland and you, as a Scot, are more likely to have seen it than someone in Wiltshire or Somerset, who could be forgiven for that but many people have heard of it.
AE – Not always for the right reasons though. Not for your film. (referring to the 2006 remake)
RH – No, thats right. The other film.
(We moved on quickly from that nightmare hot potato topic to discuss The Wicker Tree and the film’s clear comedy element)
RH – Well, when I presented the film for distribution, primarily in the United States, I had to drop a message along to inform audiences that it was OK to laugh. Ill do the same here (at Grimmfest). Black comedy is a genre that people understand very well. It’s not new but it can be very difficult to sell it.
AE – At Fantasia in July you mentioned that you were working on a third film. Can you tell me a bit about that?
RH – The Wrath of The Gods.
AE – That’s the official title?
RH – Well it is at the moment, yes. The Wicker Tree went through about four titles. It’s really where the Gods get their comeuppance. It’s the third in the trilogy where the tables are turned on the Gods, which is poetic justice, I think. The film is set in Iceland, where the great Sagas of the Gods, similar to the Celtic Gods, came from. It’s set very, very loosely in the last act of The Ring Cycle.
(At this point, my vacant expression exposed my deep lack of culture beyond my love of films, leading Hardy to explain)
It’s a series of operas by Richard Wagner. The last opera is called The Twilight of The Gods. It’s very boisterous. Heroes, heroines, Gods and Valhalla and all that. I play a game with that in the final film. I have tried to use music in amusing ways. We had a wonderful Scottish composer, Keith Easdale, who wrote all the music that matters in the film. We are still about 6 months from starting filming. It’s going to be full of surprises and jokes but ultimately, very dark.
So that was that. I’d had my time with the man. My inner geek is satisfied…for now.
Here is the trailer for The Wicker Tree…