Leslie Thornton

Guest Professor of Film at The European Graduate School / EGS.


Leslie Thornton (b. 1951) is an American filmmaker and artist. Currently, she lives and works in both New York and Rhode Island. Leslie Thornton was born in 1951 in Knoxville, Tennessee. Leslie Thornton creates vigorously experimental film and video. All her work delves into the mystery and ongoing investigations into the production, creation, and distribution of meaning through and within media. One finds that with Leslie Thornton both form and content are critical and inform each other. Thornton is a professor of Modern Culture and Media at Brown University.

From a young age, Leslie Thornton was engaged in avant-garde cinema due to weekly screenings of experimental films at a Unitarian church in Schenectady, NY, that she regularly attended as a teenager in the 1960s. This unlikely event helped guide Thornton’s aesthetic. In the early 1970s, Leslie Thornton used her artistic talents in the world of painting. Although she painted for less than ten years, she produced a large body of work that Thomas Zummer discusses in Senses of Cinema, “Thornton’s paintings organized a sensual, expressionist hand into strict formal geometric mappings. These works begin with a painterly sensuality set within and against a series of structural grids, so that there is a constant tension between expressivity and the ineffable…. Unlike the minimalists, whose concern with phenomenological reduction implied an authoritative essentialism, Thornton’s practice was more troubled and problematic, engaged in a trajectory wherein painting gradually and irrevocably evacuated its presence within the visual field. Painting was a vessel incapable of the containment of the sensate. Language, gesture, emotion the random and inexplicable things and occurrences of the world were among her subjects; painting seemed insufficient. It was a matter of finding an appropriate instrument for her investigations.”

Leslie Thornton attended the State University of New York in Buffalo, New York. While studying she worked with filmmakers such as Hollis Frampton, Paul Sharits, Stan Brakhage, and Peter Kubelka. She also studied with Richard Leacock and Ed Pincus at MIT in Cambridge, MA. Leslie Thornton has received many awards, including the Maya Deren Award, the first Alpert Award in the Arts for media, a nomination for the Hugo Boss Award, two Rockefeller Fellowships, and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, New York State Council on the Arts, New York Foundation for the Arts, Jerome Foundation, and Art Matters.

Leslie Thornton’s film and media works have been exhibited across the world, in venues including The Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Whitney Biennial Exhibition; Centre George Pompidou, Paris; Rotterdam International Film Festival; New York Film Festival; CAPC Musée, Bordeaux; Pacific Film Archives, Berkeley; and festivals in Oberhausen, Graz, Mannheim, Berlin, Austin, Toronto, Tokyo, and Seoul, among many others. Leslie was the only female experimental filmmaker noted in Cahiers du Cinema’s “60 most important American Directors” publication. Leslie Thornton’s project Peggy and Fred in Hell received numerous accolades in various annual best lists including: The Village Voice and The New York Times.

Leslie Thornton’s films include: Minus 10 (2005), Let Me Count the Ways: Minus 10, 9, 8, 7… 20 (2004), Peggy and Fred in Hell; End in New World, a definitive linear version of this 20 year long project (2003), Paradise Crushed (2003), Origin (2003), Temporary Modern (2003), The 10,000 Hills of Language (2002), The Great Invisible (2002), Peggy and Fred on Television (2002), Paradise Crushed (2002), Bedtime v.2. (2002), Document of an Installation (2002), The Splendor (2001), Have a Nice Day Alone (2001), Quickly, Yet Too Slowly (2000), Bedtime (2000), Chimp For Normal (1999), and Another Worldy (1999).

Other films include: The Haunted Swing (1998), …or lost (1997), Old Worldy (1996), The Problem So Far (1996), Whirling (1996), The Last Time I Saw Ron (1994), Strange Space (1993), Introduction To The So-Called Duck Factory (1993), [Dung Smoke Enters The Palace] (1989), Peggy and Fred and Pete (1988), There Was An Unseen Cloud Moving (1988), Peggy and Fred in Kansas (1987), She Had He So He Do He To Her (1987), 1,001 Eyes (1987), Peggy and Fred in Hell: The Prologue (1985), Oh, China, Oh (1983), Adynata (1983), Jennifer, Where Are You? (1981), noexitkiddo (1981), Minutiae (1979), Fiddlers in May (1977), Howard (1977), All Right You Guys (1976), and X-TRACTS (1975).



Her Weak Memory of the Tornado
Thornton, Leslie. “Her Weak Memory of the Tornado,” and “Peggy and Fred in Hell.” In Crash: nostalgia for the absence of cyberspace, edited by Thomas Zummer and Robert Reynolds. Thread Waxing Space, 1994. ISBN: 0964134713

Which Way To Political Cinema?
Thornton, Leslie, Trinh T. Minh-ha, and Laleen Jayamane. “Which Way To Political Cinema?” In Framer Framed: Film Scripts and Interviews, edited by Trinh T. Minh-ha. Routledge, 1992. ISBN: 0415905613

On Unconventional Character
Thornton, Leslie. “On Unconventional Character.” In Breakthroughs: Avant-Garde Artists in Europe and America, 1950-1990 exhibition catalog/artist’s commissioned project page. Wexner Center for the Arts/New York: Rizzoli, 1991.

If Upon Leaving What We Have To Say We Speak: A Conversation Piece
Thornton, Leslie, Trinh T. Minh-ha, and Laleen Jayamane. “If Upon Leaving What We Have To Say We Speak: A Conversation Piece.” In Discourses: Conversations in Post-modern Art and Culture, edited by Russell Ferguson, William Olander, Marcia Tucker and Karen Fiss. New Museum for Contemporary Art / MIT Press, 1989. ISBN: 0262061252


Golden Eyes
Golden Eyes. Directed by Leslie Thornton. 2010.


Binocular. Directed by Leslie Thornton. 2010.

Photography is Easy –Version 2
Photography is Easy –Version 2. Directed by Leslie Thornton. 2010.

Migrating Forms Trailer
Migrating Forms Trailer. Directed by Leslie Thornton. 2010.

​((((( )))))
((((( ))))). Directed by Leslie Thornton. 2009.

​The Word for Melancholy
The Word for Melancholy. Directed by Leslie Thornton. 2009.

BOB-BOB. Directed by Leslie Thornton. 2009.

Novel City
Novel City. Directed by Leslie Thornton. 2008.

Horror Film One: Shanghai Blue
Horror Film One: Shanghai Blue. Directed by Leslie Thornton. 2008.

The Expiration
The Expiration. Directed by Leslie Thornton. 2007.

​Minus 9
Minus 9. Directed by Leslie Thornton. 2007.

Sahara Mojave
Sahara Mojave. Directed by Leslie Thornton. 2007.

​As The World Turns
As The World Turns. Directed by Leslie Thornton. 2007.

Data Tent
Data Tent. Directed by Leslie Thornton. 2006.

Let Me Count the Ways: Minus 6
Let Me Count the Ways: Minus 6. Directed by Leslie Thornton. 2006.

Sahara Mojave
Sahara Mojave. Directed by Leslie Thornton. 2006.

Minus 10. Directed by Leslie Thornton. 2005.
Minus 10. Directed by Leslie Thornton. 2005.

Let Me Count the Ways: Minus 10, 9, 8, 7… 20
Let Me Count the Ways: Minus 10, 9, 8, 7… 20. Directed by Leslie Thornton. 2004.

​Peggy and Fred in Hell; End in New World, a definitive linear version of this 20 year long project
Peggy and Fred in Hell; End in New World, a definitive linear version of this 20 year long project. Directed by Leslie Thornton. 2003

Paradise Crushed
Paradise Crushed. Directed by Leslie Thornton. 2003.

Origin. Directed by Leslie Thornton. 2003.

Temporary Modern
Temporary Modern. Directed by Leslie Thornton. 2003.

​The 10,000 Hills of Language
The 10,000 Hills of Language. Directed by Leslie Thornton. 2002.

The Great Invisible
The Great Invisible. Directed by Leslie Thornton. 2002.

Peggy and Fred on Television
Peggy and Fred on Television. Directed by Leslie Thornton. 2002.

Paradise Crushed
Paradise Crushed. Directed by Leslie Thornton. 2002.

Bedtime v.2
Bedtime v.2. Directed by Leslie Thornton. 2002.

Document of an Installation
Document of an Installation. Directed by Leslie Thornton. 2002.

The Splendor
The Splendor. Directed by Leslie Thornton. 2001.

Have a Nice Day Alone
Have a Nice Day Alone. Directed by Leslie Thornton. 2001.

​Quickly, Yet Too Slowly
Quickly, Yet Too Slowly. Directed by Leslie Thornton. 2000.

Bedtime. Directed by Leslie Thornton. 2000.

​Chimp For Normal Short
Chimp For Normal Short. Directed by Leslie Thornton. 1999.

Another Worldy
Another Worldy. Directed by Leslie Thornton. 1999.

​The Haunted Swing
The Haunted Swing. Directed by Leslie Thornton. 1998.

​…or lost
…or lost. Directed by Leslie Thornton. 1997.

​Old Worldy
Old Worldy. Directed by Leslie Thornton. 1996.

The Problem So Far.
The Problem So Far. Directed by Leslie Thornton. 1996.

Whirling. Directed by Leslie Thornton. 1996.

​The Last Time I Saw Ron
The Last Time I Saw Ron. Directed by Leslie Thornton. 1994.

Strange Space
Strange Space. Directed by Leslie Thornton. 1993.

​Introduction To The So-Called Duck Factory
Introduction To The So-Called Duck Factory. Directed by Leslie Thornton. 1993.

​[Dung Smoke Enters The Palace].
[Dung Smoke Enters The Palace]. Directed by Leslie Thornton. 1989.

Peggy and Fred and Pete
Peggy and Fred and Pete. Directed by Leslie Thornton. 1988.

There Was An Unseen Cloud Moving
There Was An Unseen Cloud Moving. Directed by Leslie Thornton. 1988.

Peggy and Fred in Kansas
Peggy and Fred in Kansas. 1987. 11 minutes, b/w, video.

​She Had He So He Do He To Her
She Had He So He Do He To Her. Directed by Leslie Thornton. 1987.

​1,001 Eyes
1,001 Eyes. Directed by Leslie Thornton. 1987.

​Peggy and Fred in Hell: The Prologue
Peggy and Fred in Hell: The Prologue. Directed by Leslie Thornton. 1985.

​Oh, China, Oh
Oh, China, Oh. Directed by Leslie Thornton. 1983.

Adynata. Directed by Leslie Thornton. 1983.

Jennifer, Where Are You?
Jennifer, Where Are You? Directed by Leslie Thornton. 1981.

noexitkiddo. Directed by Leslie Thornton. 1981.

Minutiae. Directed by Leslie Thornton. 1979.

​Fiddlers in May
Fiddlers in May. Directed by Leslie Thornton. 1977.

Howard. Directed by Leslie Thornton. 1977.

​All Right You Guys
All Right You Guys. Directed by Leslie Thornton. 1976.

X-TRACTS. Directed by Leslie Thornton. 1975.

Face. Directed by Leslie Thornton. 1974.


. . you will . . .
Thornton, Leslie. “. . . you will . . .” Fish Drum 15 (1999).

From The So-called Duck Factory
Thornton, Leslie. “From The So-called Duck Factory.” Art Papers, 1995.

Thornton, Leslie. “Places.” Blind Spot, Fall 1993.

We Ground Things Now On A Moving Earth
Thornton, Leslie. “We Ground Things Now On A Moving Earth.” Motion Picture Vol. 3, No. 1-2 (1989-90).

Peggy and Fred in Hell/Her Weak Memory of the Tornado
Thornton, Leslie. “Peggy and Fred in Hell/Her Weak Memory of the Tornado.” FIVE: Top Stories Vol. 23, No. 24 (1986).

Peggy and Fred in Hell [first version]
Thornton, Leslie. “Peggy and Fred in Hell [first version].” Subjects/Objects 3 (1985).

Women in Film: Interview with Laura Theilen
Thornton, Leslie. “Women in Film: Interview with Laura Theilen.” Cinezine, October 1984.

Culture As Fiction
Thornton, Leslie. “Culture As Fiction.” Unsound 2 (1983).

Peggy and Fred in Hell [first version]
Thornton, Leslie. “Peggy and Fred in Hell [first version].” Unsound 2 (1983).

Dear Su . . . from a list of things to tell you. . .
Thornton, Leslie. “Dear Su . . . from a list of things to tell you. . .” and “Letters.” Idiolects 13 (1982).


Leslie Thornton

Looking and Seeing: “I Like to Watch”