Tuesday, June 21, 2011
The Wicker Man - The Original Soundtrack Album (Silva Screen Records, 2002)
The only thing better than a five-star movie is a five-star movie with a five-star soundtrack, the latter of which I believe perfectly describes The Wicker Man. No, I'm not talking about that abominable remake with non-talent Nicholas Cage that came out a few years ago. I'm referring to the original 1973 British Lion version with Edward Woodward and Christopher Lee that continues to provoke strong reactions to this very day.
As a cult film, it equally attracts both fanatics (myself included) and detractors. In my experience, those who have expressed a dislike for The Wicker Man tend to be people who wanted to see a horror film with a lot of blood and gore, and instead got something quite different than what they had anticipated. This is a much deeper, multi-layered motion picture than that, although it would not be improper to acknowledge that there is a strong element of terror that significantly factors into the plot. Consequently, one can still use the word "horror" for descriptive purposes, but with the understanding that such a term more accurately applies to the general feel of dread and foreboding that is present throughout the feature. Viewers expecting graphic violence, monsters, and supernatural occurrences will only be disappointed. One reviewer stated that The Wicker Man is more of a mystery movie than anything else, and I would have to agree more than disagree with that assessment. While the plot does unfold in an investigative fashion, it is the other aspects of this difficult-to-classify flick that make it one of my all-time favorites. Indeed, The Wicker Man can also be appreciated as a thriller, a religious work, and even a musical.
Its musical-like characteristics, of course, are a big part of the reason why the soundtrack is so successful. The songs are not merely background noise; they are an essential part of the movie itself. Quite simply, the British Isles folk music-derived performances possess the same disarmingly creepy vibe that makes The Wicker Man so appealing to its fans. Not only will the tracks on this CD evoke particularly memorable scenes in the minds of those already familiar with the film, listening to such material on its own will also help the initiated realize how integral this soundtrack is to making these scenes so unforgettable in the first place. It is hard to imagine Sergeant Howie's arrival on Summerisle without the footage being accompanied by the pastoral "Corn Rigs" and his first night at the inn without the musicians in the barroom playing the bawdy "Landlord's Daughter" or the hypnotic acid folk of "Gently Johnny." "Willow's Song" comes off as seductive as the erotic scene for which it was composed, while "Maypole" and "Fire Leap" sound wonderfully pagan to my ears. "The Tinker of Rye" gives the listener an opportunity to enjoy the surprisingly capable vocal duet of Christopher Lee and Diane Cilento, with the instrumentals "The Procession" and "Chop Chop" serving as examples of atmospheric soundtrack music at its finest. The ethereal "Lullaby" and the "Festival/Mirie It Is/Sumer Is a-Cumen In" medley arguably exemplify that aforementioned creepy vibe better than anything else on this disc. The incidental music that concludes this recording is the icing on the cake, even if these tracks are not as fully realized as the preceding material. Having had a bootleg version of this soundtrack without these titles for a number of years before this official version was released, I found them to be a minor revelation, especially "Opening Music," which sounds like an old Scottish folk song with enchanting Northumbrian smallpipes accompaniment.
And the musicians responsible for this one-of-a-kind soundtrack? Collectively, they were an ad hoc group called Magnet, which was headed by American songwriter Paul Giovanni and assisted by British folk rock musicians Gary Carpenter (recorder, lyre), Andrew Tompkins (guitar), Ian Cutler (violin), Peter Brewis (recorder, Jew's harp, harmonica, bass guitar, etc.), Michael Cole (concertina, harmonica, bassoon), and Bernard Murray (percussion). This CD's extremely informative notes provide fascinating details on the making of the movie and the recording sessions for the soundtrack. Most importantly - at least from a musicological perspective - Carpenter's section of the booklet mentions many of the traditional songs on which several of these tracks are based.
Songs from Summerisle - Ballads of Seduction, Fertility, and Ritual Slaughter
1. Corn Rigs
2. The Landlord's Daughter
3. Gently Johnny
5. Fire Leap
6. The Tinker of Rye
7. Willow's Song
9. Chop Chop
11. Festival/Mirie It Is/Sumer Is a-Cumen In
Incidental Music from The Wicker Man
12. Opening Music/Loving Couples/The Ruined Church
13. The Masks/The Hobby Horse
14. Searching for Rowan
15. Appointment with the Wicker Man