Yes, we have been here before, as far back as the second week of Film 2018, two Januaries ago and in another lifetime. That, then, was the Director’s Cut, the most extended version of The Wicker Man that could be floated, a mix-and-match of textures and film quality. The Final Cut is the 2013 print, approved by Robin Hardy, at a length between the Theatrical Cut and the Director’s Cut, but made from a discovered print of reliable quality, and cut to Hardy’s intended sequence. In his eyes at least, if not those of Anthony Shaeffer, this is the definitive version.
It’s also my most recent DVD, delivered yesterday and selected for viewing this lockdown sunny Sunday morning because it’s a Working Sunday and I’ve not been able to get completely out of it, so a familiar film comes as a bonus.
Except that it wasn’t familiar, not familiar at all, which came as a lot of a shock. It wasn’t so much the extended introduction, of Howie in his Church on Sunday, singing lustily, reading a strident lesson, followed by an extended and very beautiful flight across the Western Isles to Summerisle, as the film itself. There was a brightness to the print, and all the colours more vivid and sharp without ever seeming unnatural or artificial. It was as if every cel had been washed and wiped and was freshly printed.
The result was a film that looked like something I’d never seen before. I was no longer familiar with it, no longer blase. And I’ll swear there were different shots, that scenes looked different, that little bits of extra footage were replacing those with which I have looked since become accustomed to seeing. I was alert and focussed, no longer taking anything of the film for granted, no, not even the most famous and established sequences.
And I’ll swear the soundtrack has been refreshed too. Offscreen dialogue, background chatter, kept coming through clearly.
It was like watching a new film entirely, and after the two previous cuts I have, both of which are on the other DVD set, this version had something they don’t, not in the same quality. The Final Cut feels like an integrated version, something entire and exact. Robin Hardy has described this as the closest there is, or will be, to his original vision, and assembled in accordance with his intentions.
Is there still a complete, original cut to be found? It’s long been claimed that the master was buried in an M4 pylon. Robin Hardy believed it was gone for good. Christopher Lee remained confident that the print still existed, in an unmarked can somewhere. Maybe one day I’ll watch the full film on a Sunday morning and marvel at how things work out.
If that ever happens, it had better be soon. Of the film’s five stars, it’s writer and director, only Britt Ekland is still here to see a thing like that happen, and she hated her time making the film, though it doesn’t show in her performance.
And once again, I must mention just how brilliant Edward Woodward was as Sergeant Neil Howie. It’s an immense performance, and must have come as a revelation to the 1973 audience who knew him best from the title role in the dirty, gritty, espionage series Callan (I, being only eighteen when the film appeared, had never have seen any episodes of Callan, though its reputation has always been high). And Woodward himself thought this to be his best performance, and it is.
It’s nice to see something you know so well through new eyes. One day I’m going to have to watch the Directors Cut and the Final Cut and compare the two (I have both a DVD player and a laptop that I can set up side by side: that’d be fun in itself). If I do, I’ll write about the experience.