Leslie Thornton’s ‘Peggy and Fred in Hell’ is an experimental film-video serial project coaxed in deep obscurity, evoking a sense of open-endedness and temporal indefiniteness. Distinct years are strew around the web, variously indicating additions of footage to the assemblage or screening dates, but despite these one cannot placate the jagged, hazy nature of the work, nor its current status. Any given review can only attempt to vaguely approach it, always a step behind, not knowing what exactly it’s facing.
On my computer I have the eponymous 95 minute file, but there’s no way to verify its authenticity or completeness. Any bootleg sources are intrinsically unreliable, contact with the filmmaker — insofar as even she has a grasp of her “lifelong project” (given it’s not necessarily a linear creation, and any publicised version could easily re-edited by someone else) — uninvited. The only option is to let go, allow oneself to be lurched into the kaleidoscopic expedition to Hell.
The Television and Radio constitute zones of audiovisual infiltration, thus reaching the viewer & kids’ senses, as well as encroaching upon the film material itself — from the onset the medium confronts its own plasticity, with the distinction between original and found footage collapsing, the potential of non-linearity, rewinding, contamination, and decay presaging, the techniques and elements of creation necessarily enabling their own dissolution. Pete the penguin is forever trapped as a wraith within the film material, but his existence is only guaranteed insofar as he’s continually manipulated and killed, over and over again.
Peggy and Fred too are enmeshed in a variety of processes, most of all their unique imaginative minds, spouting seemingly glossolalic jabbering and singing. Whether they’re locked in a cluttered almost-anachronistic apartment or playing on non-chartable eerie territories, there exists no higher order power with control over them, they co-exist — along with everything else — within a self-propelling schizophrenic process, a matrix of potentialities, a mixed-up televised world unfolding before the viewer, an experimental serial.