To many die-hard Wicker fans, the name Amanda Sunderland will be a familiar one; some will have visited her studio in Dumfries & Galloway. Here she talks about her work and family connections to the film.
TWM: You're based on the Isle of Whithorn, very much Wicker territory, and the Sunderland's have had strong links with the area for many years?
AS: My great-grandfather's family had been coming on holidays here since the late 1800's and my grandfather, Joe, retired here in 1960 to a house called Seafield on the main street. My father moved back here in the early '70's and I loved being here as a kid in the holidays.
TWM: At what stage in your life did you think: "This is where I want to live and work" ?
AS: I don't think I consciously thought at any one point that I wanted to live and work here, but I remember never wanting to leave when the holidays were over. As an adult I would come and go having been told there was no work/few opportunities here for young people. I have always thought of it as the nearest thing to home, and it seems to have been my safe haven at various points in my life.
TWM: It is your uncle, Mark Sunderland, who we can mainly recognize as a film extra; does he still have fond memories of humming menacingly at Edward Woodward on the cliffs?
AS: I've not actually seen uncle Mark for a while so haven't had a chance to ask him. I remember him once telling me that 25-30 years after the film he was recognized in a shopping mall in the States! I think along with the rest of the cast involved with those scenes his abiding memory is of how cold it was on the cliff-top, as they were only wearing summer clothes in the middle of November! (TWM: Issue three of 'Nuada' fanzine contains a short interview with Mark).
TWM: And Mark's two brother's, Ian (your father) and uncle Harry were employed as 'antler men' for the procession scenes?
AS: Yes, my dad remembers laughing because there were no eyeholes in the masks! First of all they were supposed to skip along to the music but the choreographer realized that was hopeless, so made them sway in time, but still uncle Harry managed to slide off the banking at Castle Kennedy and roll down the hill! He also recalls one day while watching the female cast members shooting something, they were moaning about this and that, and he overheard Britt Ekland say, "Never mind, think of all that lovely money we'll be making!". Bert Elkhound, ha ha! (a reference to the Galloway Gazette's name for Britt after her negative comments on the area!).
TWM: How old were you when you first saw the film, and what was your initial opinion?
AS: I think I must have seen it when I was in my teens, as it was made when I was eight. I do remember my dad writing/phoning us back home about it, especially the bit about him doing a scene where he had to hold Britt's hand and run down a street with her (deleted scene). We were very excited and asked if she spoke to him, but apparently not; she just did the scene and went back in her trailor. I think Lindsay Kemp and the actor who played the Doctor(John Sharp) liked to go out for a drink with uncle Harry, and a couple of times I think they had to be fetched from the pub! The first time it struck me that the film was something quite important was in the late '80's when I was studying in Leeds and saw it advertised in the film festival. An old friend said it was his favourite film, and I replied, "Well, guess what? My dad and uncle's were in it!". After that I started getting interested and there were groups of people coming up here at intervals to find out about it.. Initially I thought it was heavily edited, and I couldn't make a lot of sense of it. My dad hadn't said much about it, and everyone was initially very disappointed in it/didn't understand it, and the fact that it was a B-movie, so it was almost something to be embarrassed about(I know that's hard to believe now). It did strike me at the end when Howie was about to get his reward in heaven, the more I watch the film now I find it utterly terrifying to watch his changing reaction, and the psychopathic detachment of Lord Summerisle and the islanders to his fate; really creepy!
TWM: Your studio is situated next to the Tower seen in the film, and the latter is currently occupied by another Wicker extra?
AS: Yes, Liz. (Elizabeth McAdam-Laughland) She recently told me about a scene in which the doctor opens his bag and it is full of serpents (deleted scene). That makes sense of the shot of the gravestone inscription (Beech Buchanan's) which mentions serpents. Liz said that never before or since has she drunk as much champagne as she did during the making of that film, then tantalizingly added: "But we won't go into that!".
TWM: You have a vivid eye for colour in your paintings - certainly in the canvas I bought from you the skyline is a sensuous and powerful array, like the film itself, both welcoming and menacing: is nature a direct inspiration for you?
AS: Oh yes! Especially at the moment, the power of the sea is always a fascination to me; its tremendous movement combined with strong winds as it crashes and sprays wildly over the cliffs and engulfs everything in its path. I can spend many hours just watching it, trying to commit to memory. I take photos but they don't capture movement truthfully, they miss the essence of the thing.
TWM: Wicker merchandise is obviously only a small part of your artistic output, and your quite mindful to keep it unique and untacky?
AS: I'm glad you picked up on that; I am very mindful of avoiding tackiness as I think it would be very easy to hit a wrong note with Wicker Man merchandise (and remakes!). Mine, I hope, is a very personal approach to the history of the film, its production, location and character. And because I have been sort of tied to it for so long, I can get quite protective of it (especially after the remake, which was a disaster and just about as tacky as you can get!). I think it's a very intelligent film that stands the test of time, and it was certainly ahead of its time, so any picture or merchandise that I do has to be well thought out and bring in the particularly local elements of nature and locations of the film. I also paint much of the local landscape without reference to TWM.
TWM: Thanks, Amanda. Finally, how can people contact you about commissions and merchandise?
AS: They can either message me through facebook, or email at email@example.com. Or phone 01988 500 148 if they are coming to the Isle and would like to come and view my work they are very welcome, but may be best to ring first just to make sure they know how and when to find me as my opening times are a bit variable so we can arrange a suitable time.