Clif's Carnival

Mr. Childree's passion brings back the kind of filmmaking only a régisseur could love

He meticulously documents his moviemaking rituals on oversize sketchpads. Hundreds of entries written in Childree's block print fill unlined pages. One reads "CASKET AND SHOVEL/LIGHT STRIKE." Another refers to the mechanical man's bedroom and how some of his more, uh, crucial parts have malfunctioned: "SHOT OF TALL DRESSER NITE LITE. FOR CLOSER POV WHEN PENIS THING IS MAKING NOISE."

Although he's concerned about screening his only copy of the film, he recently showed New Times a brief sequence at his Victoria Park apartment on his reel-to-reel projector. "If it gets scratched, it'll probably make the movie better," he reasons. "It'll make it look older."

He flips the switch, and the familiar clattering noise begins. Playing the mechanical man, Childree appears on screen. His eyes are rimmed with black shadow, his face a blanched ivory encircling a darkly painted mouth. In this scene the audience watches the leading man's secret life as he runs from one part of the shooting gallery to another. Childree totters through woods clogged with fallen logs and skeletal trees. Dressed in a somber flannel suit, he carries a suitcase, and his stride is a mix of Chaplin and animatronics.

Me, myself, and eye: Clif Childree zooms in
Joshua Prezant
Me, myself, and eye: Clif Childree zooms in

He took a week off from his day job for the first time in more than four years to film the five-minute sequence at a friend's Plantation home, close to where he grew up. "I had to drag cords from his house, and the lights kept going out because so much power was draining from it," he says, laughing. Childree is incredibly easygoing about the difficulties he's faced. He prefers to see them as delightful surprises. "It's weird because you don't film a movie from start to end. You don't really know what's going to happen. It always changes. So when you put it all together, that's when it really comes alive.... It's like everything else is not real, like tunnel vision into the psyche. It sinks right in there. It's the same as a dream."

Childree still needs to shoot a few more scenes before he enters postproduction. He plans to edit the film with the aid of a computer, a modern-day tool that even an old-fashioned guy like Childree can appreciate. "You don't have a lot of middle men now. That's my hope for the future. Anyone who wants to make a movie, they can do it by themselves. They can distribute it and even show it in other places."

Although he might enter The Flew in a few art-house festivals, Childree envisions showing it in iconoclastic fashion. He plans to travel the country with his movie, playing its soundtrack on a 1905, two-pedal pump organ that now sits in his apartment among his 40-plus vintage cameras, his Victrola, and dozens of other antiques. The music perfectly suits the man and his work. It is a melody from a simpler time that brings to mind carousels, popcorn, women with bustles, and netted hats. "I just love to do something creative like this. I really want people to love my film and to love what I do," he confesses. "It's the whole reason a lot of artists do stuff. You want people to love you."

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