Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Clockwatching: A Few Hours With Christian Marclay's Masterpiece

I had thought I'd write something about Christian Marclay's The Clock when it screened during the Lincoln Center Out of Doors Festival. I typed up the notes I scribbled in the dark and thought I'd get back to see more of it, but that didn't happen. With the announcement of December showings at the Museum of Modern Art, I decided just to post my notes, and add to them when I get to see more of the 24-hour collage. In a way, this seems more appropriate. The work is so subliminally cerebral, so disjointed and rejointed again, that immediate reactions seem just as relevant as polished prose. Or maybe in December I'll figure out what it was I was trying to say.

The Clock Diary


It’s a fascinating example of nonlinear storytelling in that b) it is not a story at all, although it both suggests and relies completely upon stories; and a) it is perhaps the most linear thing imaginable.

Time seems to stretch and contracts even while its passage is continuously being displayed. A five minute segment can feel like 10 while the next 20 fly by. We are made to be both acutely aware of and disconnected from the passage of time.

The tops of hours become magical, celebratory.

While there’s no storyline, it’s possible to get lost in the suggestion of story and for a scene of 5 or 10 or 20 seconds to pass only to realize you seem to have missed the only necessary condition (ie, of course, the clock).

Other scenes seem lost in the mix. Marclay at times cuts just before or after an edit in the original, leaving a seemingly orphaned clip that can’t always be placed.


I know some of the actors. I rarely know a movie. It would be such a different experience if I did. People laugh with recognition. I don’t want that recognition. I want this strange story where nothing ever stays the same, where I don’t have to try to understand because there is no understanding to be had, where I can just experience, float along, counting the minutes.

Funny thing: on the way in tonight I looked at my phone to note what time I was beginning this round. As if…

I would like to see all 24 hours, but I’m not kidding myself that I will.

I am aware of looking forward to midnight – that must be the most exciting moment of the work. But I wonder – what is the least exciting? Marclay said that 5-5:30 am was the hardest time to fill: The half hour that’s neither night nor day, before the first alarm clocks start going off. But does that mean that what does happen at 5-5:30 is boring? It’s not often the intention of directors to make boring movies. I wonder if anyone has just filmed a clock. Michael Snow, maybe, or Yoko Ono or Andy Warhol.

It seems as if with each passing hour things go from light to dark. :00 to :30 tends to be people enjoying themselves, doing frivolous things, comedies and romances. Things are fresh, new, in the process of becoming. :30 to :00 is about problems, finality, time is running out, the clock is ticking, you’re late, perhaps too late.

I try to think of times in movies that mean something to me. Certainly the radio alarm clock in Groundhog Day. I believe the opening Drew Barrymore scene in Scream. There must be some great “school’s out” scenes. And Metropolis, of course. Oh, and American Grafitti. I suppose it’s revealing something to say what heavily time-dependent movies I’m able to recall.

Ah, King of Hearts with Geneviève Bujold! I’d forgotten about that movie.

Midnight is great, of course. The top of each hour seems to be another turn for Marclay’s sound collaging. The whole 24 hours is, of course. But the tops of the hours are the rewards. It almost seemed like he downplayed midnight a bit though, went counterintuitive. Noon seemed a much bigger ordeal.

The amount of emotional import an actor like Shelley Winters can deliver becomes deeply apparent in a 20-second scene without context.

Oh, of course there’s After Hours. Dog Day Afternoon, Nightmare on Elm Street maybe.


I like the ways the cuts make people laugh. Not the laughter of recognition so much but the laughter of having continuity and incongruity mixed, of something being dropped in one scene leading to a body prone on the floor in the next, suggesting a causality that makes no sense.

Nice to see a bit of Basquiat, a touchstone in a sense for Marclay’s own work.

It also works as an homage to the timepiece itself, of course, probably one of the most wonderfully and variously designed of functional objects. I am, however, yet to see a Swatch or a sundial.

- Kurt Gottschalk

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