Have they really found the Wicker Man?
Reports suggest that a complete version of Robin Hardy’s classic, much-cut folk horror has been discovered. But how “complete” is it really?
I suppose the unfinished film whose missing bits we most mourn is Orson Welles’s The Magnificent Amberson’s. If anybody manages to drag up the original ending of that great picture then they can quite reasonably describe themselves as having altered (or restored) film history. Enthusiasts for English folk horror — the same coves who savoured the recent A Field in England — do, however, yearn to see the sections of The Wicker Man (1973) that have eluded archivists over the past 40 years. The film had a peculiar history. First released in a double bill with Don’t Look Now, Robin Hardy’s eccentric shocker slowly picked up a following and is now rightly regarded as a rough-hewn classic. Unfortunately, the versions released in cinemas and subsequently on DVD remain incomplete. The film described as “the director’s cut” on a current issue restored much that was lost, but the rough, poorly graded footage sits uncomfortably beside that from the released print. It looks like the patched-up job it is. So the search is still on. Was the missing footage — as Alex Cox claims — really used as landfill for the M3?
Last week, suggestions emerged that the missing sections of the Wicker Man — cut by distributors nervous of the length — had been found and a complete print would shortly be released. Robin Hardy confirmed that, following an appeal by Studio Canal, we could now enjoy “an actual print of The Wicker Man which is based on my original cut, working with Abraxas, the American distributors, all those years ago this version of The Wicker Man will, optimistically, be known as The Final Cut.”
It looks, however, as if there is little we haven’t seen recently in this version. There are, for example, no undiscovered shots of PC Edward Woodward’s life on the mainland before he headed off to investigate paganism on the islands. Hardy is divided about this. He was always happy about the film being distributed without those scenes. But he has expressed some sorrow that the much-fabled “long version” does now look to be lost forever.
“We decided to check the Harvard archives in the US to see if they had anything,” Studio Canal’s people explained. “We were very excited to hear that they did have a print, which they measured and informed us it was 91½ minutes long! The print came into their collection in the ’90s from a private collector and had been in cold storage since 2004.”
This is, however, still good news. It looks as if we that we will get a nicely conditioned version of the cut that Hardy always wanted. This includes early appearances by Christopher Lee’s Lord Summerisle and one song that didn’t make it into the commercially released version. And, all going well, the picture will be back in cinemas by the end of this year to celebrate its 40th anniversary.