Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Speaking of May Day...

I finally saw the Wicker Man last night. It's a tricky film to watch because you already know the end. Everyone does. It's the first thing anyone tells you about the film.

Given that, I actually enjoyed it.

It's obviously cult stuff, so there's plenty on it at Wikipedia, and useful pages explaining what scenes were lost. It also comes in for its share of post-modern analysis "The blank, unstaring face of the Wicker Man is a tabula rasa for anthropological projection, and represents not a particular anthropology (such as pagan or Christian) but anthropology itself, " says a philosopher called Robert Farrow.

I think it's interesting that a lot of people take the "ancientness"of the rituals for granted. In the film, it's very clear that the island's rituals are Victorian-era reconstructions which have themselves become traditions.

There's lots of lovely traditions in the film - an excellent hobby horse and Beltane fires - but it's all been reproduced and engineered the first Lord Summerisle - who obviously read Fraser's Golden Bough (and so can you) - to get the locals to work for him. The film does talk about it being a revival of the ancient religion of the place, but there's a big nod to Victorian revivals.

Which is just like all ritual now. Are these activities ancient, and "authentic"? Are they done out of a "tradition" which might be only a few years old? Or are they "reviving", "reproducing" or "reconstructing" activity recorded 100 years ago - which might in itself be just a reproduction?

There's lots of good academic work on all this of course (try Ronald Hutton) but I also enjoyed a personal acount of it all -- The Magic Spring by Richard Lewis. In the end, we do the rituals we want to, respecting traditions and making our own.

May Day in Deptford had all of this rolled into one of course.

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