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Shooting for the moon

Claire enchants at local premiere

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An audience of nearly 700 experienced a rare night of cinematic anachronism with the Nov. 3 premiere of Claire, a black-and-white silent feature accompanied by a 12-piece chamber orchestra at downtown's Rialto Center for the Arts. One of the local film community's most hotly anticipated screenings, Milt Thomas' strange and wondrously naive envisioning of a Japanese folk tale had glowing cinematography and fairies, both magical and human, but came without the product placements and snatches of sub-Tarantino dialogue that have invaded even the indie scene these days.

Claire tells -- no, shows -- the story of a luminous moonchild (Toniet Gallego) discovered by an elderly couple and lovingly raised in their rustic farmhouse in an idyllic rural American South, circa 1920s. As a mysterious, beautiful young woman, Claire bewitches onlookers with her readings of fantastic poetry in unfamiliar languages and entrances a local boy, who courts tragedy when he tries to win her affection.

Ultimately, she is forced to choose between earthly love and her true nature.

The hour-long film -- Thomas charmingly refers to it as a "moving picture" -- was four years in the making, lovingly shot on a vintage hand-cranked 35mm camera by cinematographer Jonathan Mellinger with a haunting score composed by Anne Richardson.

Much of the film was shot on meticulously constructed sets that lend an air of endearing artificiality and wonder to the images, which include a dream-like sequence of dancing water nymphs. Like everything in Claire, all special effects are achieved the old-fashioned way, with semi-hidden wires and multiple exposures, which contributes to the sense of watching something from a simpler, bygone time.

Currently, Thomas, who hosted numerous fund-raising parties and mortgaged his house (twice!) to see Claire through to its debut, is submitting his moving picture to film festivals across the country. He concedes, however, that his film is a tricky sell because of its demands for a live orchestra.

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