Feliz Lucia Molina talks with filmmaker Leslie Thornton about the concepts behind her films, X-TRACTS, Jennifer, Where Are You?, and Peggy and Fred in Hell.
Filmmaker Leslie Thornton is a contemporary of visionary image-makers such as Chris Marker, Chantal Akerman, Michael Snow, and Harun Farocki. The poetic breadth and conceptual depth of Thornton’s work—which bridges the gap between video and cinema—express a commitment to the vulnerabilities and complexities of the human condition, the guiding thread in her work. I imagine a rope pinned at to the trees different points in a dark forest, something to hang onto while moving through the dark cinema sky.
Thornton spent her early teens living in rural New York with her family. It was there that she was first exposed to experimental film, through screenings of contemporary works that a minister of a local Unitarian Church put on every Sunday. When she went to college at the State University of New York at Buffalo, she studied under some prominent figures in Structural Film, such as Hollis Frampton, Stan Brakhage, Peter Kubelka, and Paul Sharits. Thornton made her first 16mm film X-TRACTS while in graduate school in the 1970s at the Hartford Art School, a film that marked the beginning of an extensive body of work. The artist is currently a professor of Modern Culture and Media at Brown University, and also teaches film at the European Graduate School in Switzerland. This summer, she collaborated with students on a film involving athleticism and trampolines, which was somewhat inspired by Werner Herzog’s The Great Ecstasy of The Woodcarver Steiner (1974) and Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Phantoms of Nabua (2009).
The following conversation with Leslie Thornton and her partner, artist and scholar Thomas Zummer (who teaches Theory at the European Graduate School), took place at a coffee/tea bar in the tiny town of Saas-Fee in the German-Swiss Alps, where the EGS is located.
Feliz Lucia Molina I was watching some of your films on UbuWeb and I was wondering about X-TRACTS, the first film you made. I’m curious about the stuttering, the hesitations and hiccups that happen through language and sound paired with the cuts.
Leslie Thornton I made that film when I was in school as a graduate student. Up until then I was painting which was my life when I was a young teenager. But I was painting in a way that was reductive. It was during a period of Minimalism moving into Conceptualism.
Miranda July on her experiences meeting strangers from the PennySaver and the relationship between her book It Chooses You and her film The Future.
Miranda July’s second book It Chooses You (McSweeney’s, 2011) is a series of interviews with twelve people she found through the PennySaver in Los Angeles. While having a rough time figuring out what to do with The Future—her second feature-length film—she flipped through the PennySaver, and as though there were gods speaking through pennies, she realized she ought to find out more about who all these people were and why they were selling their precious things, spread far and wide across the city. If there was a secret magical underworld of buyers and sellers, the PennySaver would be a portal to finding divine answers from strangers, most of who have so much to say.
Told in a series of interviews, alongside photographs by Brigitte Sire, It Chooses You is a fearless poetic document that uncomfortably examines the desire for human connection, failure, loss, loneliness, and despair, among other things. It’s also an open-ended, never-ending narrative on the hopeful premise that if you listen to the universe and follow your gut wholeheartedly, there’s nothing to lose. Miranda July is an interdisciplinary artist, filmmaker, writer, and performer currently living in Los Angeles. She is the author of No One Belongs Here More Than You (Scribner’s, 2007). Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005) was her first feature-length film and The Future (2011) was her second feature-length film. This interview took place on Skype one Sunday evening in California.
Feliz Lucia Molina In the book, why do computers appear as motifs for almost every PennySaver stranger you interviewed?
Miranda July Even though I wasn’t initially focused on computers, the absence of them and of the kind of mentality that computers enable became palpable. I think I’m always interested in absences, especially in when they’re fleeting. Even in five years there’ll be way fewer people who won’t have computers—computerless people will die and computers will get cheaper. So that was interesting to me too, that it was a way to pinpoint an exact moment in time.