Christian Marclay’s astonishing tour-de-force ‘The Clock’ is part of the latest British Art Show ‘In The Days Of The Comet’, at the Hayward Gallery, and certainly its centerpiece, although the naked guy watching the burning bench was a freaky second (he goes to lunch between 1:00pm and 2:00pm). I hope it finds a permanent place in a London gallery, so that you can eventually see all of it.
How long do you look at a piece of art for? A minute? Two? I looked at ‘The Clock’ today for just under three hours, and only left then because I needed to pee. Marclay’s film is an art piece and a movie masterclass, a meditation on time and film that won’t stop asking questions in your head after you’ve seen only the smallest part of it.
Marclay’s film is twenty four hours long and divided into minutes, so that each minute has clips from films that only show that sequential minute. There are scenes from the entire history of world cinema that show clock towers, wrist watches, mantelpiece clocks, alarm clocks, and all of the various situations around them, with the sound rebuilt and bleeding across so that you feel as if you’re actually watching a single long film.
But better than this, the times in the film exactly correspond to the time that you’re watching it, so the whole stitched-together movie becomes a timepiece in itself. You can gauge how long you’ve been sitting there by keeping your eye on the screen.
I chose to watch a chunk from around 11:00am, which meant that at 11:45am we had Richard Hannay hanging from the hands of Big Ben in ‘The 39 Steps’, along with everything from Gary Cooper in ‘High Noon’ to Tony Hancock in ‘The Rebel’. Big Ben features rather a lot.
There are plenty of bomb countdowns for the noon detonation, of course, and execution deadlines, while ten past the hour seems to be the popular time for people running late into stations. One hilarious clip features Albert Finney stopping a train just by yelling at it.
But has Marclay created art or a movie? Could you ever see all of it? (The longest someone has lasted so far is eight hours). Could it ever be released on DVD if all the studios waived their rights because it is art? There’s an accompanying book which features a still from every minute, but amazingly and infuriatingly it doesn’t list the movie clips. The day after I saw it, I went mad trying to recall all the lovely moments that made me want to watch these films again.
More importantly, I came away with a changed sense of time and what it means. This sort of thing has been done before in short video mashups, but ‘The Clock’ is a genuinely profound and enthralling work. Catch it if you can, wherever you can.
Oh, and here’s a short piece from a local BBC channel about it that talks to you as if you were a child with severe learning disabilities.