When a character on screen swims under water, do you ever try to hold your breath for the duration? If so, you may intuit without my help that the radical departure of Christian Marclay’s 24-hour video installation The Clock is that in it, one minute=one minute.
The Clock is, in fact, a clock. Its minute and hour hands are clips of feature films that feature clocks. Some are famous, some recognizable, others next to anonymous. Some are critical moments — I had the pleasure to be there for 10:04 pm, the exact moment when the Hill Valley Courthouse was famously struck by lightning on November 12, 1955; cheers went up. Others suggest significant moments within a narrative–the changing of an hour, almost always; even a shot that shows one minute changing to another suggests that a transition is happening elsewhere in the world.
In the world of The Clock, this becomes startlingly true and not-true at once. Whatever momentousness the viewer feels is immediately stolen, as the film moves on to another clip. Indeed, some of the most telling clocks are those that are purely there as set dressing — the large, plain institutional clocks in police stations, the decorative tabletop clocks in living rooms. The force that those clocks exert on life is anterior to what we might naively imagine to be cinema’s chief force, narrative.
Cinematic narrative found its language contemporaneously with the great Modern novelists, Woolf, Forster, Joyce, who (along with Bergson) portrayed time as it elapsed within the self. We’ve received this as a revolutionary dawn, but it was also a fairly quick rebellion — time had only become an impersonal and rigid global latticework in the previous generation, when the need to schedule trains led to the imposition of commonly set clocks.
Marclay’s clock atomizes the cinema’s endlessly malleable putty of time. The minutes are revenants, hungry ghosts unglued from their narratives, friendly snakes eating their tails. I can’t separate the brutal reimposition of impersonal time from the sheer fun of seeing grandfather clocks, clock towers, bedside alarm clocks and wristwatches all finally get one looping dance extravaganza, where Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd are just two of the innumerable guest stars. The Clock is strangely fun to watch. I’ve done it twice now, last Saturday from 9:40 pm for about an hour, and last year from about 10 to 11 am.
[Update: I removed the embedded trailer for the clock, now at the link. As the youtube page points out, it should technically only be watched at 12:04 pm. I don’t want to mess up your sense of time.]
I’ll keep going back if LACMA keeps showing it. I’ll stop if I learn to time my dreams. What did you spend your time watching?
x-posted to The Weblog