Woodenhead is a dark, trippy alt-fairy tale shot in a very unorthodox manner, one that's comic, tragic, sexual and frightening. And then there's the music. The movie itself would be an easy recommendation for fans of the weird, but to make this a no-brainer this 2-disc set also includes a soundtrack CD.
Highly recommended, if you dare.
Movie Grade: A
DVD Grade: A
If we're to believe director Florian Habicht, his vision for Woodenhead came to him in a dream where he was visited by Milli Vanilli (that infamous lip-synching musical duo) and they instructed him to create a film where all of the dialogue, music and location sounds were shot first, with the visuals to be filmed later to somehow match the audio.
The result is a mixture of black-and-white arthouse hipness and clever storytelling, an experimental project that is more than just a simple gimmick. It's a cohesive-yet-weird narrative, unsettling and dreamlike in its construction, yet telling a tale that is sad, lovely and ugly.
Woodenhead is, at its most base, a twist on the Hansel and Gretel mythos, along with fragments of a few other fairy tale staples. Only here it's the story of a simple young man named Gert (Nicholas Butler) charged with escorting his boss's mysterious daughter Plum (Teresa Peters) to another village for her wedding to a wealthy corn farmer that she's never met. Gert is under strict orders to keep his eyes and hands off young Plum, but we all know that isn't likely to happen.
The journey is fraught with assorted misadventures, which eventually leads to a trek through the deep forest following the lure of distant circus music, leaving clothing behind like bread crumbs. Unbeknownst to the pair, Gert's boss/Plum's father Hugo (Warwick Broadhead) has sent the unhinged madman Goerdel (Tony Bishop) to wreck his very own brand of havoc on them. But Goerdel, we soon learn, is the least of their problems...
The novelty of the way Habicht has assembled Woodenhead is curious and odd, with some characters never opening their mouths when they speak, while others look like they're appearing in a badly dubbed movie. The effect may seem pretentious, perhaps too purposely avant-garde, but it is a clearly necessary evil for Habicht to use as he lurches full-tilt into this fairy-tale-gone-wrong abyss of the fantisctally strange. Shot somewhere in the remote wilds of New Zealand, the locations used look rugged and desolate, even more so in black-and-white, and this only enhances Habicht's lopsided please-wake-me-up-now-from-this-bad-dream universe.
And then there's the music. Sprinkled throughout Woodenhead are the occasional original songs, the best of which are performed by Steve Abel and Mardi Potter, who provide the onscreen voices for the Gert and Plum characters; Abel and Potter vocalize with the spirit of Radiohead's Thom Yorke and The Concretes' Victoria Bergsman. The tunes are all expressively forlorn and haunting, containing lyrics that help define character's misguided actions while also being hypnotically cool on their own; when Plum intones that "the world is a difficult place" in the pivotal Plum and Gert's Duet, we know she's not lying. Music proves to be an important undercurrent for the film, and Habicht keeps the showcase number Hospice for Destitute Lovers until the film's final scene—with Abel and Potter going above and beyond—where tragedy and reality all come crashing together.
Habicht has his hands full, as here's a film with a traveling circus, a creepy country priest, a rogue strongman, magic beans, a faithful donkey, a woodland milkshake stand and pair of pint-sized vandals: and if that were not enough it's also film where the use of a baby bottle becomes unexpectedly sexual. Woodenhead eclipses its art school premise and trappings by actually telling a story, with bizarre characters. stark visuals and wonderful music.
The black-and-white nonanamorphic windowboxed transfer isn't anything remarkable, looking a little coarse at times, which I suppose only helps sell Habicht's askew visuals. Audio is served up in 2.0 Dolby stereo, with voices and music presented with no issues of hiss or distortion.
Olive Films has issued Woodenhead as a two-disc set, with the second platter being a 23-track soundtrack CD; this will please you greatly once you hear the song Hospice for Destitute Lovers and realize it is permanently lodged in your noggin.
Also featured is a commentary from director Florian Habicht and actor Nicholas Butler, which doesn't begin until chapter 8 because according to Habicht during the opening credits "every good commentary starts with a sex scene". The pair yak it up nicely, but I found the accompanying featurette to be more direct, though it was interesting to hear Habicht discuss the purpose of the unexpectedly graphic sex scene or explain exactly why Butler had that most unusual walk.
The best part is Woodenhead's Featurette (48m:34s), a lengthy analysis of the unique production, which opens with Habicht recounting his Milli Vanilli dream. The film's musical highpoint is captured in the Hospice for Destitute Lovers video (04m:34s), which does a neat job recounting the entire story in four minutes. The rest of the supplements fall on the arty side of things, with Circus Acts (03m:59s), Horoscopes with Lutz (02m:15s) and Liebestraume (07m:13s) chock full of subversive cool imagery, including some neat backwards effects and the sultry Teresa Peters with a furry brassiere. Killer Ray in Bangkok (16m:05s) features the so-called "Jazz Cowboy of Auckland"—who passed away recently at the age of 77—pontificating and doing his thing in Thailand, while remaining extras include a trailer (02m:50s), a television commercial (:32s), photo gallery, weblinks, and a Habicht filmography.