Originally released in 2003, Florian Habicht’s debut feature film Woodenhead is a hypnotic and idiosyncratic adult fairytale, a surreal reinterpretation of the stories of the Brothers Grimm with a distinctively Kiwi feel.
Gert, a young man who works at a rubbish dump, is tasked with escorting his boss's daughter, Plum, across a lush and wild North Island landscape and delivering her to her husband-to-be. Throughout their various encounters with the strange denizens of the land, they fall in love and have a grand and bizarre adventure, in the dark spirit of Hansel & Gretel and similar European folktales.
The evocative score by Marc Chesterman was recorded before filming began, as was the dialogue, a unique concept which sees the film reacting to the music as much as the other way around - the songs and melodies occupy equal space with the visual storytelling, creating a lush, inviting sensory experience.
Chesterman’s score has finally been released on vinyl, in a deluxe 2 LP package that features the full score plus a second record of remixes and reinterpretations of the original tracks.
The first song, Lucky Star, is a good indication of the musical delights to follow, with endearingly offkey vocals (in the grand Flying nun tradition) over a bed of backward keyboards. It also exemplifies the score’s common musical dichotomy of whimsy and menace, creating those classic fairytale feelings of unease and disorientation.
Maidenwood is underwater lounge music accentuated with a slinky cello melody which segues into Goerdal, a dark piece of electronic surf music with throbbing bass and verging on industrial. Horoscope Dance is a lovely slice of Kiwi bossa nova whereas Forest starts as a bubbling thrum of strings and keys, before making way for birdsong and whistling. Befitting the enchanted locale, it then ventures into darker realms.
Plum’s Song places a warm accordion melody over a slow marching drum beat and a soothing vocal by Mardi Potter (as Plum though Teresa Peters plays her in the film). Plum and Gert Duet is a sweet piece of Kiwiana cinematic trip hop, again featuring the sublime cello. Plum and Gert sing ‘the world is a difficult place’ to each other, while finding each other in the midst of their journey. “Oh Gert, you’re so dewey-eyed,” Plum sings to her companion.
On ‘Hospice for Destitute Lovers’, Steve Abel and Mardi Potter sing an aching but triumphant paen to love over swirling wind sounds, stuttering keys and a punchy drumbeat. It almost feels like a slow motion Arcade Fire track, with its mix of melody and varied instrumentation.
Throughout the album, dialogue features above the music, but not in some ‘look at my clever writing Tarantino style’ but as an integral part of the journey - the characters and music are inseparable. The music is as much the film as the characters and a tribute to the unique collaboration between Chesterman and Habicht. The score is somehow both lo-fi but also big, warm and full. Experimental yet melodic, quirky yet dark. As a listening experience apart from the film, it is woozy, charming and unsettling, painting a picture of a swooning offbeat romance and strange adventure.
You can purchase the 2 X LP with a second disc of reimagined tracks from:
Listen to the soundtrack here: