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Goodbye

Star of Alleged Burning Man Inspiration "The Wicker Man" Dies

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Mon, Nov 16, 2009 at 10:00 AM
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UK's Uncut magazine reports the death of Edward Woodward, star of cult TV shows The Equalizer (US) and Callan (UK), and, more crucially, the 1973 film version of The Wicker Man.

The film was remade in 2006 by Neil LaBute (starring Nicolas Cage) as a hysterically misogynistic flop, but the original was a brilliant, moody little movie featuring Woodward as a repressed Scottish cop who gets called to investigate the death of a young girl in a remote island and ends up discovering a bizarre local pagan cult led by Christopher Lee in drag. Its soundtrack, written by Paul Giovanni and performed by Magnet, has had a huge influence on folk revival, freak-folk, and darkwave bands (and what other movie can you name that impressed both Pulp and Iron Maiden?).

The real story behind the Wicker Man/Burning Man connection (SPOILER ALERT: they give away the ending, so go watch this fantastic movie in tribute to Edward Woodward before you keep reading!), plus Nature and Organisation's cover of TWM's "Willow Song," after the jump.

The long-standing rumor (which here at West Coast Sound we believed until a few minutes ago) is that the Woodward-starring Wicker Man was the original inspiration for popular B.O.-and-drugs festival Burning Man. But apparently this is just a myth, as the official Burning Man website helpfully clarifies:

Media Myth #4

Burning Man is based on the "Wicker Man"

The Wicker Man is a film starring Edward Woodward as an earnest Methodist who is burned alive inside a huge human effigy woven from wicker. The provenance of this is Celtic, and alludes to human sacrifice as practiced by pre-Christian pagans of the British Isles. In The Golden Bough, Sir James Fraiser informs us that the practice of burning large wicker effigies survived in Europe among the folk of Normandy past the turn of the 19th Century. In the movie, made in 1973, Woodward plays a policeman dispatched to a remote British island to investigate the disappearance of a young woman. Here, he discovers a surviving remnant of the ancient pagan culture -- an odd cross between fantasies of unbridled Nature worship and a louche version of the London Mod scene (leeringly presided over by Christopher Lee).

The movie is part kitsch, part classic, and has nothing to do with Burning Man. The giant human figure pictured in this movie, stuffed with chickens, goats and, of course, the hapless Methodist, bears very little resemblance to his supposed American cousin. Larry informs us that he had not seen this film in 1986 when he first burned the Man. However, while listening to the sound track of a video made in 1988 at Baker Beach, he did hear a bystander shout, "Wicker Man". Provoked by this, it occurred to him that "Lumber Man", would be a more appropriate, though not particularly inspiring, name. He decided to call the figure (which had been anonymous), "Burning Man", and so it has remained. Any connection of Burning Man to "Wicker Man" in fact or fiction -- or, for that matter, to Guy Fawkes, giant figures burned in India, or any other folk source- -- is purely fortuitous.

UPDATE: WCS Liz Ohanesian turned us on to (Current 93 offshoot) Nature and Organisation's cover of The Wicker Man's "Willow Song":

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