Still Watching The Clock

Observatory, The Arts

I’ve written about Christian Marclay’s extraordinary work ‘The Clock’ before, but this is the first time I’m aware of that anyone has been able to post a chunk of it online – presumably shot on someone’s phone.

How long do you look at a piece of art for? A minute? Two? I watched ‘The Clock’ for just under three hours. 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.

The 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. I look forward to seeing it again some day.

7 comments on “Still Watching The Clock”

  1. Dan Terrell says:

    Okay, now this one sounds interesting. And it is more accessible than that piece of music being electronically “played” somewhere in a town in the former East Block that will take 700 years, or some such, to be performed once. Philip Glass is the composer, if I remember correctly.

  2. Dan Terrell says:

    Let’s go around the block again. That’s East Bloc hold the “k”, okay?

  3. agatha hamilton says:

    I saw part of this in Jerusalem nearly two years ago, for about an hour, I think. Was riveted. Brilliant. You really need it running on a loop at home so you can surprise it at odd moments. Or perhaps have a 24 Hour party.

  4. slabman says:

    Agree with Agatha – riveting. I went in for a glimpse, fully expecting to be underwhelmed. I found it hard to tear myself away

  5. Helen Martin says:

    Just the concept amazes me and that they were able to find film enough to match every minute. However – while I know there is film with Harold Lloyd hanging off the clock hands I really don’t remember it happening in 39 Steps. I’ve seen the film once, I think, but I’ve read the book several times and I really don’t remember that. Can someone enlighten me so I don’t have to find the book?

  6. snowy says:

    If I remember correctly the Robert Powell film transfers the location of the titular steps, from the coast to the clock tower of the HoP. They mangle the ending quite badly.

  7. Helen Martin says:

    Hah! There we are then. Thank you, Snowy. There is an apartment complex (block of flats) nearby called the 39 steps and when I counted the steps in the decorative flight alongside it there were, in fact, 39. My father was astounded that anyone would still make public reference to such an old book.

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