by Chris LeeAppeared in WaterfrontWeek, April 8, 1999 / © 1999 Chris Lee/WaterfrontWeek
Dietmar Post laughs when asked to describe cloven hoofed in as few words as possible. "We tried to write a synopsis two years ago and we absolutely failed," he says, offering only that his 12-minute film -- which was shot in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, nearly two years ago and shown in the 1999 New York Underground Film Festival -- is essentially a "horror movie."
Based on a play by Post's friend Michael O'Donnell, cloven hoofed opens with a man named Ray (actor Victor Pagan) sharpening a knife. But comparisons to traditional or derivative horror along the lines of Freddy Krueger end there. Ray's world is a dark, claustrophobic and minimalistic space comprised of a space heater and a cage containing a cardboard box with a round hole in it. It is to this box that Ray spits his anger, a raw and desperate monologue that, combined with the film's milieu and the uncompromising camera work of director of photography Claudia Amber, simply pulses with danger. A crack addict, Ray is a contemporary bogeyman on the outer fringes of society -- and his ravings, though reflective of his status and pain, make little sense but are fascinating nonetheless. "I'm not a biter," he says while agonizing over his girlfriend, who has left him and stolen his drugs. "I may be an animal, but I'm not her animal...not hers to nuzzle!" Multiply this by 12 minutes (other dialogue includes, "My teeth won't stop, they won't stop! I'm going to tear myself apart!") and throw in sharp objects and very extreme close-ups of withdrawal, and there's no doubt that this is insane, scary stuff. "The only thing we had in the beginning was this text," Post says of the play cloven hoofed is adapted from. "Visually there were a lot of things missing." One addition was the mysterious box within the cage. Post says that most people seem to think that Ray is talking to a rat hiding inside. "There's a lot of free room for interpretation," he says. "Someone actually wrote that [the film] was about a guy talking to a dead rat." And while no actual rats appear in cloven hoofed, Post recalls there having been rats on the set. "When we called people in for auditions, our first question was 'Would you be willing to kill a rat?'" says Post, adding that many of the applicants didn't stick around to answer. "But then we decided that we would not kill any rats. We decided to take all the gore out of the movie because it was corny. And I think it's much more subtle and plays more with the viewer's imagination, whereas before it would have been just another stupid gore movie." The German-born Post now prefers to let viewers decide what, if anything, is in the box. "I think it's too easy to say, 'Alright, it's a rat or whatever.'" Shopping pet stores for the perfect cage also made Post aware of the American fascination with pets -- even the possibility of pet rats. "Since I'm from Europe, I don't get it," he says with a laugh. "People talk to pets and plants in this country!"
The squalor and desperation of Ray's world was also present in reality during the on-location shooting of cloven hoofed in May 1997. "It was shot in one of those empty warehouses right by the river, on North 11th Street," says Post, who adds that the building has since been demolished. "We shot without a permit and just went in. It was, for us, a bigger production, with 25 or 30 people on the set and a generator and lights. We took a big risk. A couple of bums lived there and we provided them with food and booze and they even helped us. But it was kind of scary. We were shooting at night and a lot of weird people would stop by, asking, 'What are you doing in here?'" Justifiably proud of the end result, Post has had some difficulty in getting cloven hoofed shown and distributed. While the film has been part of numerous international festivals, the monologue's coarse, oftentimes cruel language and the inclusion of a sexually-explicit superimposition have caused some viewers and festival programmers to label cloven hoofed misogynist. Post, however, claims otherwise, and believes that the female character -- adult film producer Kelly Webb, shown only from the waist down -- and the drug-crazed anti-hero played by Pagan actually care for one another (perhaps in that funky, tumultuous my-baby-left-me/stole-my-crack-pipe kind of way). "We wanted to make fun of this guy, of his speech in a way, and [how] a lot of men just reduce women to a 'box,'" says Post. "I think that [Ray] is kind of 'swallowed' by this woman, that she's his obsession, and that's why his head becomes smaller and smaller and he eventually disappears. We found it funny, but very few people laughed. We also didn't want to make it too clear, because if it's too obvious, it's boring." Post met most of the cloven hoofed crew while attending a three-month, intensive film program at New York University's School of Continuing Education in 1996. Most of that same crew will be on hand for Eight Minutes, the next film from director Post and his Williamsburg-based play loud! productions. He says that Eight Minutes deals with censorship and sexuality in American society. "I think a lot of people are still afraid of images and words, so there's actually no freedom of speech, no freedom of using images the way you like to use them," says Post. "As an artist you are always pushed into all of these formats -- the movie has to be 90 minutes long, if it's shorter or longer it's not considered a movie, all these horrible concepts. And if you shoot a movie which is different, you are always considered an 'artist,' and I don't know what that means." Post sees very little difference between most independent and Hollywood studio films. "A lot of movies always have a message to deliver and they always have a sort of conservative message -- find the right girl, get married, raise kids. You see, there are a lot of contradictions in myself and I want to transmit these contradictions in the films I do, because there's never a clear answer to things."
Watch first the trailer and if you like you can watch the entire movie: