Wicker Man. A camp treat. The first hour is basically an upright, uptight police officer sleuthing around a island-bound Pagan commune, and having a succession of tantrums about how not-Christian everybody is. It’s spiced up with loads of bawdiness, Thistle and Psych-Rock music, and all the fruits of the filmmakers’ research into pagan bric-a-brac roughening the texture of a straightforward mystery plot.
It reminds me of a family vacation way back when, touring around the coast of Maine, and we spent an afternoon at some Unitarian island retreat. Everyone was very friendly, but I poked around the bookshop (as I was wont to do) and found a book of party games for consenting adults, or maybe it was supposed to be about spiritual/emotional growth, who remembers. One of the activities involved openly, honestly, unhesitatingly telling everyone in the group which of them you wanted to have sex with. Then and now, this struck me as a really dim idea, and I was relieved, years later, to find that Birmingham-style Unitarianism doesn’t involve such games (or if it did, I wasn’t invited.)
So watching this devout Christian fellow stomp around a lovely, sunny island and treat a bunch of sweetly smiling pagans like war criminals was deeply satisfying to my inner prig, just because that’s what I would’ve loved to do on Unitarian Sex Camp Island all those years ago. Take that, nice people who make your own yogurt!
Of course the movie ends with the Pagans turning out to be dangerous because horror movies always gotta take things to the bottom of the slippery slope. Exorcist can’t just let the girl go through a sleazy, angry adolescent phase and then calm down, which is what usually happens in real life. Texas Chainsaw has to turn its white trash creeps into cannibals, instead of just beer guzzlers who cling to guns and religion (in fact the Sawyer family doesn’t seem to have guns or religion, though they have weapons, totems and mummification.) And the pagans, of course, of course, have to do human sacrifice, instead of just having psychic faires and selling homemade candles. Such is horror.
Also enjoyed an item called Safety Not Guaranteed, which has been criticized for being yet another underweight quirky-cutesy comedy, but it stays with me for a couple of reasons. For one, it understands that time travel is really about memory and history, and puts regret and relationships at the center of the narrative. Some of the B plot romantic stuff seems weakly integrated into the film at first, but the end thematically unifies everything. Second, the film’s tense, obsessive protagonist reminds me of a guy who did the tech for a theatre venue I used to perform in. He was acerbic, scowly, and had a diagram of an engine that runs on water posted on the door of his office, with some notes on how They are suppressing this technology for their own greedy gain. I went to his house one night with a group of theatre nerds, and he showed us his enormous collection of unopened Star Wars toys. After that I tried to be warm to him, in my ungainly way, to show that I appreciated that he’d opened this part of himself to me, but he seemed even colder than before. I felt I’d failed a test. This movie is about a woman who passes the test.
Finally, watched the first half of something called Modern Girls, a truly lousy film from the early 80s. It’s well worth a look, though, if you’re interested in the more outrageous elements of 80s style. New Romantic duds galore, chunky plastic jewelry, hair chandeliers, neon pink and blue on black, it’s all here. As far as plot, thematics, character work, dialogue, all that stuff, it’s hard to imagine how it could be worse, but oh, it’s fun to goggle at. I was a boy in the early 80s, and all that stuff was on the cultural periphery of my life. Now it makes me feel like a kid again. Maybe it felt similar to the people who dressed like that. God bless ‘em.