Have you heard about “The Clock”? It’s a movie, of sorts, that is 24 hours long, but no one ever watches the whole run of it.
The “film” is the creation of Christian Marclay, whose idea it was to piece together clips of movies that all, in one way or another, reflect the actual time of the day at the very instant the scenes from them appear in his movie.
Sound confusing? Think about movies you have seen that show or refer to the exact time at some point. “High Noon” would be a classic example, of course, but you’d be amazed how many movies include scenes that show characters either looking at their watches or at clocks on a wall or even listening to the bells of a watch tower toll in the distance. And there are many more films that have scenes where characters talk about the actual time.
So, if you’ve got that thought in mind, then consider a cinematic creation in which thousands of these scenes from all the movies ever made are spliced together so that at whatever moment you may be watching the “film” you would know the exact time just by viewing what was shown on the screen.
That’s the concept, and “The Clock” works perfectly in that regard.
Intrigued? Well you might be, especially if, like us, you are a film buff. “The Clock” includes scenes from the great movies of all time as well as many more from films that might have been personal favorites of some but never achieved a wide appreciation. It also includes scenes from movies spanning the entire history of cinema, from the earliest silent films to the most recent digitally-enhanced, computer-generated action adventures.
And, what is perhaps most fascinating in viewing the work is that the scenes are all melded together seamlessly, so that, even though one scene from a romantic comedy may break and suddenly shift to another from a heavy drama and then to yet another from a shoot-‘em-up western and then to another from a horror flick and then to another from a murder mystery, you never sense that the shift in scenes are awkward or inappropriate.
If the whole thing sounds fascinating, we’re happy to report that it is, to a point. We saw about 100 minutes of the creation earlier this summer on a trip to New York City, where it was being shown at a small screening room at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. We waited well over an hour to get in, and then were free to stay for as long as we wanted. Some people in the line with us were back for a second viewing (planning to see a different segment than the one they’d seen the first time).
Of course, with “The Clock” you know you won’t see the same scenes as long as you go at a different time, since, in case you haven’t gotten the point, every scene, in one way or another, shows or mentions the exact time of the day or night that you are living at that very moment.
So, what’s not to like about “The Clock”?
Well, forgive us for complaining about the realization of such a grand design, but it would be exceedingly helpful to the viewer to have the movies the scenes are from flashed (even briefly) on the screen while the scenes are being shown. Mr. Marclay must surely have thought of that possibility and rejected it for artistic reasons.
Alternatively, he could have put together a printed index identifying the movies by the minute and made that available to viewers of his creation. Maybe such an index exists, but at the screening we attended, that didn’t seem to be the case.
The other aspect of “The Clock” that may not make it overly appealing to all movie lovers is the essential singular concept that it embodies. In that regard, we found ourselves thinking of Ravel’s “Bolero.” That musical work is interesting and can even be fascinating when performed by a top orchestra, but it isn’t exactly a great musical composition, consisting as it does of a single melodic line played over and over with increasing volume until it ends with a blast of chords.
“The Clock” never ends. It runs forever (or until the screening room projectionist stops it). But otherwise, it is something like Ravel’s “Bolero.” You sit there and realize that nothing more is going to happen to involve you in what you are seeing but the recognition of certain scenes from movies you’ve seen before.
The experience is at first exhilirating, but it does wear thin. Kind of like a never-ending story that ultimately goes nowhere and literally never ends.