Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Robin Hardy Passes On

Robin Hardy, best known as the director of the classic The Wicker Man (1973), died on July 1 2016 at the age of 86.

Robin Hardy was born on October 2 1929 either in Surrey or London (sources disagree as to which one it was). He studied art in Paris before going to work for the  National Film Board of Canada. He made educational programme in the United States, some of which would air as episodes of Esso World Theatre on National Educational Television (NET), the forerunner of PBS. He returned to Britain in the late Sixties and formed a production company that made commercials and informational films with Anthony Shaffer.

The Wicker Man grew out of Robin Hardy and Anthony Shaffer's desire to produce a horror film. Mr. Shaffer read the novel Ritual by David Pinner, in which a devout Christian police officer investigates the ritual murder of a girl in a small, rural village. David Pinner was paid  £15,000 for the film rights to Ritual. As Mr. Shaffer set out to adapt the novel, however, he soon discovered that a faithful adaptation would not work well on screen. He then developed a plot that was only loosely based upon the novel Ritual, drawing upon the practices of pagan Celts in Julius Caesar's account of his wars in Gaul and other works on Celtic paganism. Robin Hardy and Anthony Shaffer decided that the pagan practices would be portrayed objectively and with as much accuracy as possible. They also wanted their film to be more literate and intellectual than most horror movies.

Starring Sir Christopher Lee as Lord Summerisle and Edward Woodward as Sgt. Howie, The Wicker Man would be severely cut upon its initial release and its distribution was spotty at best. Regardless, the film developed a cult following and would eventually see much of its footage restored throughout the years. The Wicker Man is currently considered one of the greatest horror films ever made.

In 1978 Robin Hardy and Anthony Shaffer published a novelisation of The Wicker Man. His novel The Education of Don Juan was published in 1981. In 1986 his second film, The Fantasist, was released. The film centred on a serial killer who lured his victims by way of the telephone. He wrote the musical Winnie, which centred upon Winston Churchill. It played in London in 1988. He co-wrote Forbidden Sun (1989) with Jesse Lasky Jr. and Pat Silver. Like The Wicker Man it touched upon the subject of paganism. His novel Cowboys for Christ was published in 2006. The book centred on the Christian pop group of the title who encounter Celtic paganism in modern day Scotland. The book was a partial sequel to The Wicker Man. Robin Hardy adapted the novel as his final film, The Wicker Tree (2011).  Mr. Hardy was working on a third film that would follow up The Wicker Man and The Wicker Tree, Wrath of the Gods.

For a time after the release of The Wicker Man Robin Hardy made commercials in the United States. He was also involved in the historical theme park business for a time.

It would be fair to say that The Wicker Man overshadowed nearly everything else that Robin Hardy ever did. Given its influence that should come as no surprise. Iron Maiden based a song around the film. In 2012  the National Theatre of Scotland produced the musical An Appointment with the Wicker Man, about a theatre group trying to put on a play based on the movie. The video to Radiohead's recent single "Burn the Witch" drew inspiration from The Wicker Man. Several directors have been influenced by The Wicker Man, including Edgar Wright and Ben Wheatley. The Wicker Man has been described as "the Citizen Kane of horror films". If one must be known for only one film, then The Wicker Man would be one. While much of Robin Hardy's work remains obscure, he will always be remembered for one of the greatest British films of any genre.

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