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During summer vacations, Childree roamed the 'Bama shoreline barefoot, catching crabs and collecting driftwood with a gaggle of cousins. "It was sort of like Huck Finn. There was about 20 of us. We would wake up early and go fishing or would scoop up clay from the bay to make sculptures that dried in the sun."
On one such outing, his grandmother's glass eye popped out and fell through the cracks of a pier and into the bay. "Us kids had to fish for it," Childree chuckles.
The artist peels back his lips with pride in his family's waggish streak when he mentions the moniker — Skip Reasonover — saddled on the older cousin who pawed through the muck to find granny's missing peeper.
Click here to view a clip of Clifton Childree's Something Awful.
Today Reasonover lives in Jacksonville, where he works as a hospital food manager. He fondly remembers the ruckus. "Grandma used to take that eye out every night and kept it in a glass jar near her bed. She was very careful with it because it had slipped out before and rolled down the stairs. When it fell in the muddy water, I was the one who found it," the 44-year-old confirms.
Reasonover shares Childree's fascination with family lore and is just as quick to tell an outlandish tale. He says, for instance, their grandfather had an odd habit of making them wash ice cubes and recycle toothpicks.
"He would make us wash our ice cubes after we finished our drinks and put them back in the refrigerator because we didn't have an ice maker. He would also reuse his toothpicks, and I thought, Wow, why would he do that? He said it was because he could still use the other end."
Reasonover says the ancestral homestead came to be known as "The Funny Farm" or "Cluster Fuck." During holidays, their grandpa toted in beer kegs, and 13 was the "legal drinking age," he says.
He nonchalantly relates that when a great-aunt died in her seventies, the family was left dumbstruck by a revelation of her autopsy. "She had the skeleton of a twin fused to her back that no one knew about."
Childree informs that when he grew up, his kin organized a hootenanny every Fourth of July. His mother and uncles Bubba and Harry jammed on the clarinet, a washtub bass, and a banjo. "It was magical," he says. "The entire family would perform, and we each had our own skit or sang songs."
His mother, Barbara Doetsch, played the organ during a four-year stint as a Benedictine nun, when she was known as Sister Mary Pious. Her organ recitals as a nun appear as part of the score of The Flew.
"She kept complete silence for two years during her early twenties," he relates. "After a while, she left the convent because she hated authority and couldn't stand the visiting church big shots who would pull up in a limo and stick their hands out the window for the nuns to kiss."
Childree remembers rambling in the yard while his mom — now known as "Sissy" — involved herself with music and art projects. "I remember her once covering a canvas with black paint and then dousing it with a garden hose to watch the patterns flow, or just doing experimental stuff."
Stimulated by his mother's unbridled support, Childree popped his celluloid cherry in 1981 when he was 10 years old, with The Red Caped Killer, the story of a vampire that stalked the woods behind Childree's home. In middle school, he helmed Shalonka Man, which "was really goofy and had these terrible fight scenes, purposefully awful jokes, and really bad breakdancing. I showed it with my friends at Plantation Middle School. I remember it had this fake 'Death Cereal' commercial with some kid like Mikey who could be convinced to eat anything."
When, during a school assembly screening of Childree's film, the "Mikey" character started puking his guts out, teachers pulled the plug on his epic.
Childree has made 15 films; all of them are silent, typically shot on 16mm black-and-white reversible film using sets he builds in his back yard. He owns his own camera, lighting, and sound equipment, and at a few grand apiece, his films are Green Stamp-budget affairs.
For characters in two of his recent movies — Something Awful and It Gets Worse — he found inspiration in his grandfather. The first yarn turns on a 19th-century mariner who unexpectedly snares a Victorian harlot's butchered buttocks in his lobster trap. It overflows with slapstick japery marinated in heaps of gore. Childree plays the grizzled sea dog, who discovers an eerie connection between the disembodied keister and "Shitty Britches," an arcade game at the local tavern. One of the scenes features the murdered strumpet's disarticulated and putrefying rump discharging turds bazookalike at the numbskulls lining the bar.
The film was co-commissioned by the Carnival Center for the Performing Arts and Miami Light Project for the 2006 Here and Now Festival, and last year earned Childree LegalArt's Native Seeds Grant. He says many of its props and themes will be woven into his rides at Locust.
It Gets Worse is a Twenties-style silent horror film, a slapstick Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in which two starving, shipwrecked fishermen, adrift on a dingy, are on the verge of delirium as one of them falls into febrile reverie. He remembers cremating passengers — victims of some sort of plague — on the boat during an ill-fated journey to Cuba. The reality is that during the voyage, a band of pirates stormed the vessel, robbing and slaughtering its passengers.