These disparate strands of the New Zealand fantasy landscape find their meeting point in Woodenhead. Woodenhead was made by 28 year-old Florian Habicht. Habicht is German-born but has been a New Zealand immigrant since the age of eight. Both strands of Habichts backgrounds also find a meeting point in Woodenhead. Habicht draws upon a distilled version of Grimm fairytales and claims inspiration from films such as Volker Schlondorffs The Tin Drum (1979), a Magic Realist work where similarly twisted repressive forces keep making themselves apparent. Yet on the other hand, Habicht also intuitively taps into New Zealand filmmakers sense of an oppressively primal landscape that broods with all manner of outward expression of inner turmoils. The North Island landscapes have been shot in black-and-white and the bared open fields and native forests brood with a forebodingly stilled ominousness.
Woodenhead is a Grimm fairytale of sorts. It is clearly also a deconstructed fairytale where the modern world and the landscape of fairytale combine in peculiar ways where the hero of the fairytale takes the princess heroine to her destined wedding alternately in a broken down Humber and by donkey, where they stop for the journey along the way at the classic piece of Kiwiana the roadside pie cart. Woodenhead feels like Florian Habicht has distilled fundamental elements of fairytales the journey lost in the woods from Hansel and Gretel, the deserted cottage with the food laid out from Goldilocks, the swarthy woodsman out to kill the hero/heroine from Snow White, the magic beans from Jack and the Beanstalk and run it through with something akin to the surrealistic aesthetic of an Eraserhead (1977) or perhaps the kitsch of Canadian director Guy Maddin.
There are some hysterically weird scenes the love scene between Gert and Plum where Habicht manages to turn the bizarre image of he feeding her from a babys bottle into something erotic, before ending on one of the most hysterically deadpan love scenes all with the camera turning topsy-turvy as Gerts bare butt frenetically humps away at her, after which the narrator coyly informs us Plum and Gert had kissed for the first time; to the bizarre encounter with a priest who tortures Gert in a field by having a goat nibble his ankles; and the charmingly wacky image at the end of a trio of girls in bloomers lying on their back on a beach conducting a dance with their legs up in the air.
What is unique about the way that Woodenhead was made is that Florian Habicht recorded the entire soundtrack before he shot any of the film, something that is probably a world-first for any non-animated film. This has a striking effect the actors seem to perform independent of their voices. Voices will come on the soundtrack but the actors mouths dont move just like a cheaply dubbed Italian or Japanese B movie. This has a weirdly disjunctive effect it is surely the cinematic equivalent of thought balloons in a comic strip panel. (In the press notes for Woodenhead, Habicht recounts a highly amusing anecdote about how he received the idea in a dream in which he saw two angels descend from Heaven who turned out to be Milli Vanilli (the infamous 1980s pop group who revealed they had had their voices dubbed) who told him that he must prerecord the voices for the film). More to the point, this is also something that allows Habicht to cast one set of actors for the way they look and a different set of actors to provide the voices that are right for the part. The actors have all been chosen for the strikingly physicality of their appearance Habichts girlfriend Theresa Peters plays the princess Plum, where her long face and strikingly bony, almost masculine, features have a cool, distantly aloof beauty; hero Nicholas Butler has been chosen for his blankly impassive appearance, where all the expressiveness of his character is denoted by the wrinkling of his prominent forehead; and in the part of Goerdel, Tony Bishop has been deliberately cast as the cliché image of a swarthy criminal.
Full film available online here:-