The Wicker Man: Through a Modern Lens – by Emil Nagl

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The burning of The Wicker Man: A staple scene in the history of horror and cult film.

My name is Emil. I am a BA History student. I participated in the Collaborative Research Internship in the Project “Untold Histories of “The Wicker Man,” which was directed by Dr Christopher Nunn, Assistant Professor of Film (Education Focused), Department of Film and Creative Writing.

When I first watched Robin Hardy’s ‘The Wicker Man’, starring famous names like Christopher Lee and Edward Woodward, I didn’t think I’d one day get the opportunity to help in the production of a film/documentary following the sons of the director as they rediscover their father through previously lost documents and untold stories. Naturally, when I saw an opportunity to support Dr Christopher Nunn do exactly that, I didn’t hesitate. The role of the student researcher involved finding the copyright holders for images and videos used during the docufilm, as well as generating interest both within the public via social media, and the more dedicated via festival research followed by emails and phone calls. As a history BA student I had no experience in film production, so the project had me learning on the fly constantly, and improving my ability to use experience from other fields in a new environment.

When you watch a film for the first time, you don’t usually consider its production unless it contains some sort of spectacle. You might wonder how a large explosion was shot, but you wouldn’t consider the interpersonal drama going on between a camera crew and a director during the filming of a simple dialogue. Moreover, you certainly wouldn’t consider the drama that can go on as a result of the body doubling of an actress in a nude scene. And upon a re-watching of the film you might pay more attention, and consider the metaphors and hidden details that hadn’t been spotted the first time round. Still, you would likely not consider the precise deliberations that had gone on to ensure an actor was handsome enough to play the role, but not handsome where they might no longer appear to be a Christian virgin.

Leading into the project I had expected scrubbing through the same footage over and over again, listing image sources and gathering licences would reduce the joy I got from watching a masterpiece. Instead, my enthusiasm for film has remained, but more so it has been joined by a new appreciation for film. Particularly The Wicker Man, which once for me was a well written, acted, and directed work that examined belief, and the genre of horror: Now when I watch The Wicker Man I know about its deeply personal history, for the sons of its director and how the making of the film greatly impacted their lives. How the legacy of the film, and its director still remains with them today. Being able to help someone weave such a personal and cathartic film is incredibly rewarding, and gratifying.