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Apparently, I’ve never blogged about “The Wicker Man”…

March 11, 2014

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This really rather surprises me, and alarms me not a little.  I’m mainly alarmed because I’m starting to get a little confused as to what I have and haven’t already blogged about.  Is this a function of the prolific nature of my blogging or is it senility?  Or is it a little from column A and a little from column B?  The fact that I’m losing track of my own archive is a pity because I was looking forward to a version of old age where I no longer actually had to speak at all.  My opinions on every conceivable topic would already be written up and archived and I could spend my declining years just a click away from instantly reposting pre-existing opinions in response to appropriate and timely situation.  I wouldn’t have to repeat my opinions any more.  But if I’m already starting to forget stuff…?

Ho hum…

Our first year students have been studying The Bacchae.  And this of course reminds me of the very great 1970s version of the Bacchae of Euripides, written by Anthony Schaffer and starring Christopher Lee and Edward Woodward.  Euripides’ original tale of a censorious official religion being swept away by a wilder fertility cult transplants easily to this remote Scottish island.

Edward Woodward’s performance as Pentheus is both comical and poignant.  A stern Presbyterian, he clings to an official reality that declares Scotland (and this island still just about appertaining to Scotland) as a Christian country.  His middle aged virginity is at once pathetic and noble, his somewhat clumsy and unexamined version of faith is both ludicrous and touching.   Christopher Lee’s interpretation of Dionysos is equally strange and impressive.  Someone who looks like a civilised representative of the landed gentry, with a proper library and everything… turns out to be the principle spokesman for the accommodation and celebration of unfettered sexuality.  Christopher Lee wearing a dress is one of the scariest things you’ll ever see.

There are many nods to an original Greek context.  Summerisle is far too warm for its latitude, producing Mediterranean fruits at a subarctic latitude.  Most impressively, The Wicker Man is a film that mostly takes place during the day time, in bright sunshine.  A daytime horror movie evokes the original day time context of the viewing of ancient Athenian tragedy.  While most horror movies conclude with the dawn, the rising of the sun to expel the horrors of the night, The Wicker Man concludes with the dusk, the setting of the son confirming the horrors of the day.

The Bacchae of Euripides, in this version as in all others, does not sneer at Pentheus, nor side with him.  The extent to which he is a tragic sacrificial victim is contested.  The battle between rival faith systems is left unresolved at the tale’s conclusion.  Of course, The Bacchae itself was originally staged for a state sanctioned celebration of Dionysos.  In Athenian terms, the refusal of Pentheus to accommodate Dionysos is obviously blameworthy.  1970s Scotland did not impose a state funded celebration of any pagan fertility cults.  But the idea is preserved somehow that there are dark and sexy energies that need their time in the sun.  That if you fail to acknowledge their power and their presence, you may end up being incinerated by them.

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One Comment
  1. I knew nothing of this film before. It sounds amazing! Especially Christopher Lee in a dress.

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