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Rooftop Cinema: Peggy And Fred Series

  • Madison Museum of Contemporary Art 227 State Street Madison, WI, 53703 United States (map)

In an anomalous year of feature film showcases at Rooftop Cinema, Tennessee-based avant-gardist Leslie Thornton's work is deservedly being billed as the central shorts program. Each of Thornton's three '80s Peggy And Fred films (which act as an open-ended serial) fit unassumingly into this summer's Rooftop theme of "dystopian futures" with dizzying, grainy black-and-white visuals shot on 16mm. Escalating elements of fanciful dialogue and rambling songs and the utilization of found footage superimposed with live action combine to recall a post-apocalyptic America that seems to creep closer by the day. Modern political and ecological havoc aside, Thornton's initial short, cheekily titled Peggy And Fred In Hell: A Prologue (1985), tackles the idea of escapism through the two titular children who are raised by the eternal presence of television and perform to an imaginary audience as a primary means of communication. The second and lengthiest part, Peggy And Fred And Pete (1988), sees the two protagonists joining a penguin named Pete amid the literal and metaphorical ashes of a once-bustling suburban landscape. To counter paralyzing feelings of isolation and desolation, the three create a more fertile but untamed fantasy world using strangely familiar cultural artifacts. After diving deep into these unknown interior worlds in scenarios that conjure Terry Gilliam's Tideland (2005), Peggy and Fred make a stop In Kansas (1989) for the program's finale. Directly influenced by The Wizard Of Oz (1939), In Kansas follows the children as they endure a ravaging tornado and then scavenge for food. Through the young actors' improvisations, Thornton poetically explores notions of truth, unnervingly drawing no boundaries between established sciences and science fiction and the time-specific origins of various technologies. Considering the latter, Peggy And Fred may actually serve as a more sobering companion to the lessons and ironies in Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play (2012), which had a run at the Overture Center last year. —Grant Phipps

Earlier Event: June 16
Bluelight IV
Later Event: June 18
David Murray-Kahil El'Zabar Duo