If you have never seen Peggy and Fred in Hell, Leslie Thornton’s “lifetime project,” as she puts it— at 20 plus episodes and counting—then you have never seen anything like High Heel Beloved which is described as an epilog—which may or may not mean it’s the last installment.
The closest thing I can think of is an anonymous film, Observational Study of Free Play in Children, 1952*. No idea how I happened to see it. Psychology students sit behind a one-way mirror and watch children play in a room full of toys under the eye of a play therapist.
But in High Heel… there is no room, no toys and no explanatory voice-over; the children, an eight-year old girl and a seven-year old boy, are in a location that you will discover in the course of the film and the kids don’t look at or talk to Thornton as the children in Observational…do with the play therapist.
Why? Because they know you aren’t supposed to while you are acting in a film.
But they don’t look like they are acting; their playing is uncannily familiar if you have ever played free in the wild with found objects—under the assumption that you were unobserved.
Another remarkable aspect of High Heel… is that the central sequence is one continuous reel of film that was never intended to be shown sequentially. To put it another way, it was edited in-camera accidentally.
I don’t want to spoil, so I’ll stop now, but I’ll refer you to a great essay by Ed Halter in Art Forum** if you want to know more about Peggy and Fred…