Culling the annals of cinematic history for snippets of clocks, watches, and the odd sundial, Christian Marclay’s 24-hour long film The Clock is a continuously captivating, mind-blowing masterpiece.
During a screening this weekend at Queen Elizabeth Hall’s Purcell Room audience members fidgeted with their own watches to confirm that the film corresponded with official GMT – it always did. As time marched on so did a parade of familiar faces—including Clark Gabel’s Rhett Butler calming his daughter’s midnight nightmare in Gone With the Wind; Ron and Harry missing the 11am Hogwarts Express; and Winona Ryder’s Veronica Sawyer plotting to bring down High School cretins as her bedside clock reads 9:55pm in Heathers.
The Clock weaves together several thousand excerpts from movies and television that reference the passage of time to represent every minute of every hour of a day. The collaged clips unspool in real time, as the artwork itself functions as a valid clock synchronized with the local time at which it’s being exhibited. Sequences are either comically explicit: at 8:12pm a filmic Tom Cruise shouts “God damn it it’s 8:12”, or hauntingly subtle; as in a fragment where an old man’s tapping cane serves as the ersatz ticking of the second hand. There are timepieces of all persuasions, from grandfather clocks to pocket and wrist watches, to clanging alarms, car dashboards and cuckoo clocks.
A trailblazer of the turntablist movement, Marclay was born in California, raised in Switzerland, and now lives between London and New York. The consummate appropriator, he began mixing and sampling sounds in the late 1970s. It took him two years and six assistants to complete The Clock, which is as much a sonic success as it is an intellectual one. Sound overlaps from one clip to another, with thematic ebbs and flows transitioning from a soft hum to surging musical scores.
Unlike Andy Warhol’s Empire—8 silent, static hours of New York’s Empire State BuildingMarclay’s film is soulful and pulses with life. It brims with humanity and makes us aware of the ceaseless passage of time and how we experience it in relation to our own mortality. Manifested in the work is Marclay’s own joyful cinephilia, where time is the ever-present hero, villain, and mundane expositor of the compelling narrative. Marclay’s mighty feat of craftsmanship might be summed up by the inimitable words of Ke$ha: ‘tick tock/on the clock/but the party don’t stop’.
Having shown in London’s White Cube and New York’s Paula Cooper Gallery, The Clock is sure to be a crowd favourite at this summer’s Venice Biennale.