Leslie Thornton

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).