When Prospect and the Contemporary Arts Center announced they were bringing the acclaimed 24-hour film installation The Clock by artist Christian Marclay to New Orleans, the Film Society staff jumped at the opportunity to experience this unique exhibit. It sparked such dialogue and conversation that a number of staffers penned their responses to The Clock , which you can find below.
Lauren Delery, Programming Assistant
While watching movies, I often feel like Bastian in The Neverending Story, when he saved part of his lunch in parallel with Atreyu. But there always comes a point when the spell is broken, when I leave a movie winter to step out into a New Orleans summer, when I finish a nighttime story but the sun’s still shining, when I want to share lunch with a character but it’s long past dinner. It’s jarring to remember that those two hours in the theater—the mood, the weather, the place, the time—were not actually a part of my world. With The Clock, I was connected in real time with the rhythm of life. 2:30am seemed obscenely late, for myself and for the characters waking from nightmares, being followed down dark streets, or generally up to no good. 4:00am showed some glimmer of wakefulness, a promise of a new day. At 8:30am, we were waking, thinking about breakfast, starting our days. Noon on a lazy day was shared with late risers, lunchbreakers, and office workers; and in real life, with a standing-room only crowd at the CAC. The moments ticking by onscreen, through their number and variety, created a universal sense of life as really lived. It was easy to get lost in the film, without ever losing sight of the passing of the time.
Jolene Pinder, Executive Director
When I heard about The Clock for the first time, it sounded like an abstracted video installation—an endless montage focused solely on concept. When I finally saw it as part of Prospect’s installation at the CAC, I was amazed that it is something entirely different. This was the most mesmerizing exhibit I can recall seeing in recent history. Every hour was a revelation and the hours just slipped by—I never could have imagined that nestling on an IKEA couch would bring me such immense delight.
The Clock is such a masterful exercise in editing. It tells a story without the ingredients we consider essential to storytelling. This is a story of our human rhythms: waking, sleeping, eating, loving, talking, fighting, fornicating. The repetition of these elements as seen throughout Marclay’s cinematic history primer of sorts is both a comfort + a dislocation. It is comforting to bear witness to these unifying moments—both mundane + transcendent—of the human experience. The dislocation is a fascinating byproduct of seeing so many film clips juxtaposed. The magic of cinema means that time can be erased, revised, recreated; movies can paint a simulacrum of a period. When all of these representations are woven together, as a viewer you are left hyper-aware of time on a micro sense and often utterly lost at the macro level. “Wait, was this film actually shot in the 80s or trying to depict the 80s?” The most riveting stretches, for me, were the sequences in the middle of the night—the sleepy montages, the sleepless watching of the clock, the scenes of passion, the shadowy goings-on at these dark hours, the L-cuts that let one audio clip bleed into the visuals of another film.
Clint Bowie, Director of Programming
Over the course of two weeks, I spent a combined total of nine hours with The Clock. It became an addiction, a need to settle in to those white couches to see what my on-screen counterparts were doing right this second. The first time I went, I was accompanied by my Film Society colleague Monika, and while neither of us planned to stay much more than an hour, we found ourselves still there five hours later. It proved to be the ultimate guess-that-movie game, and I longed for a cheat sheet; while most of the scenes were at least familiar (or featured familiar actors), I don’t think I could actually name the title of more than half of the movie clips that flashed up. I silently cheered for some of my favorite films (like Altman’s Three Women, which had a scene of Shelly Duvall and Sissy Spacek’s characters preparing for bed), and smiled as others showed excitement for other clips: the couple next to me delighted in recognizing a young Omar Sharif, my colleague Jolene squealed when a childhood favorite, Drop Dead Fred, appeared not once but twice, and there was a mysterious clip that I think came right before a scene from My Blueberry Nights that featured the New Orleans street corner of Erato and Annunciation that drew audible gasps of excitement from the 2:00am crew (though I still don’t know what movie that was from).
I’ll admit I found the soundtrack to be problematic, as the music from one clip (and occasionally the dialogue as well) often ran over into another clip for comedic or dramatic effect. This was particularly noticeable during the lead-up to noon, when the synth-fueled Run Lola Run soundtrack became the background sound for a full minute’s worth of clips. Perhaps I’m just a purist, but this editing seemed to rob some of the integrity from the original source material. But did it make it more watchable and compelling? Of course. So maybe I shouldn’t complain.
Another gripe I had was the piece’s lack of any subtitles, despite the inclusion of quite a few foreign films. At first, I assumed this was a sloppy mistake in how the piece was being exhibited locally, but I later realized that this must have been intentional. If Marclay’s purpose was to show the universality of emotion, then the specific conversations didn’t matter, right? Maybe, except so much of what connected these universal dots was in what people said. And despite the assumed requisite that each scene included an actual clock or timepiece, that wasn’t always the case. A scene from Hamlet conveyed time through a monologue on mortality and the actor holding a skull, for example. This was also the case for some of the foreign film clips, and without the context of language, how should we interpret these scenes? Without knowing what’s said, I found many of them to take me out of the “story,” as it were, to give my attention a break. For its lack of any overarching through-line, there were certainly attempts at coherence, threading together scenes to create narrative strands. I particularly enjoyed the period leading up to midnight (and beyond), where various incarnations of Joan Crawford, in all of her on-screen plotting and suffering, provided an ongoing touchstone for a theme of late-night desperation. There’s another great “sequence” that shows an older Colin Firth musing about aging and death in A Single Man, only to be followed up about ten minutes later with a clip of a much younger, more carefree Firth in an earlier film, a dissonance that at once provided humor and depth.
Who I saw on screen—Crawford and Firth and all the other thousands of cast members—was actually what left the most profound impression on me. During my nine hours, I took in clips from hundreds upon hundreds of films (and some TV, which always felt less-than to me, but that’s a different conversation), and in all of these clips there was a near-nonexistent presence of non-white characters. Exceptions were notable: Whoopi Goldberg in Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Jackie Chan in Shanghai Knights where he’s literally inside of a clock, two scenes from Jarmusch films (Coffee and Cigarettes and Ghost Dog: the Way of the Samurai), and a scant few others. Additionally, I don’t recall a single non-heterosexual tryst in all of the nine hours I was there (and there were many trysts, especially after midnight). This narrowness in scope was alarming. The artist could certainly have made an effort to include more non-white, non-hetero-normative characters (maybe they’re not as readily available, but they do exist and have since the dawning of the motion picture). But instead, we’re presented with a mostly homogenous cast (#TheClockSoWhite?). It was no surprise to learn that Marclay, like many of the gatekeepers and decision makers in the cinema landscape, is a 60-something, white, straight man. As I sat through my last two hours with The Clock, I couldn’t help but wonder what a more inclusive 24 hours might look like. I can only hope that a sequel to this (The Clock 2 anyone?) would, thanks to the rise in more content out there featuring different perspectives, be more representative of what our world is really like.
Monika Baudoin, Director of Operations
The Clock is such a special treat for any cinema enthusiast. It becomes so addictive very quickly, so no surprise that I was able to experience 8 hours of it and it didn’t feel like I had watched enough. I do feel tremendous respect for the team who spent years looking through film collections and choosing appropriate scenes for the project. Syncing videos together to perfectly match time passing with every minute was a great effort. Even if I wished the selection was more international and represented people’s lives across the globe, I was very pleased to see two scenes from A Short Film about Love by Kieślowski. I also was able to find the whole listing of movies used in The Clock. It, however, surprised me to find that there was no scene of a mother breastfeeding a baby at night even though such occurrences happen almost everywhere every night. I wonder if there was no material to use for this or if none of the researchers found it relevant…
Sergio Lobo-Navia, Technical Director
The most interesting aspect of The Clock is how it plays with the viewer’s perception of time. We’ve all been that person in a gallery setting where we’re checking our watches as a video that we walked-in on midway through drones on. While watching The Clock, there is no need look at your wrist or pull out a phone; we are always aware of what time it is. My sole experience was late at night where I arrived at 5 minutes to midnight.
On screen, we see Orson Welles (from his underrated 1946 thriller The Stranger creep around a clock tower as midnight slowly approaches. Intercut are shots of Big Ben, awaiting its fate in V for Vendetta. A sense of countdown anxiety begins to build as we slowly creep toward midnight. At the strike of midnight, one clocktower stabs Orson to death while another explodes. The film critic Tim Grierson Tweeted that when he saw the same sequence, his theater erupted in cheers and I might’ve too if I just hadn’t walked in five minutes before. I would need to earn my cheers. I only lasted another ninety minutes as the excitement of those midnight scenes changed into footage of people getting ready for bed or sleeping. I felt The Clock was asking me what I was still doing and letting me know she’d still be there if I came back later.