The New Yorker had a profile of Swiss artist Christian Marclay back in March. It was mostly about a piece he did called *The Clock* - - he hired a staff to watch thousands of movies and pull out moments where you see a clock or a watch, or someone mentions the time. He took those moments and assembled them into a 24-hour film called *The Clock*. He ran into trouble between 3 and 6 AM, he wasn’t able to find any footage that matched some minutes during that span, so he filled it with things that would be happening during that time frame. He breaks out of the showing-a-clock format by using a lot of clips that don’t explicitly feature the time, but are thematically related to an adjoining clip. My guess would be that only half the clips actually feature an explicit mention of the time. One of the most fascinating things about the piece (and one of the reasons why it’ll probably never be released on DVD) is that it functions as an actual timepiece: when it’s 10:05 AM in the movie, it’s 10:05 AM in the theater.
The Lincoln Center Festival screened it this summer, for free. They ran it from 8 AM to 10 PM Tuesday thru Thursday, and from 8 AM Friday around the clock through 10 PM Sunday. I decided I wanted to see the whole thing, in segments, but thought I would give myself an out, in case I wasn’t wild for it. Of course I WAS wild for it.
4:26 AM to 8:02 AM
I set my alarm for 3:45 AM, but woke up at 3:40, so thankfully I didn't have to hear the alarm go off, and neither did Richard. I was out the door and on the A train at just after 4, and let me tell you, taking the subway at 4 AM on a Saturday is a cultural experience all in itself! I thought it would just be me and some smelly homeless person. He was there, but plenty of other people, too.
I got to the David Rubinstein Atrium and was greeted by a few young people with clipboards and/or walkie-talkies. A young woman got someone on the walkie-talkie to confirm that there was a spot for me. There was, so they let me in. The film was being shown in a room surrounded by black velvet curtains. There were two rows of eight IKEA couches (I know they were from IKEA because of the New Yorker profile). I took a seat in time to see George C. Scott look around and roll over to go back to sleep. One of the first things I remember was a perfect example of how he joins two unrelated clips - - he showed a clip from what looked like a cheesy film noir, of a woman in bed, seeing a light go on in the hallway, she quietly gets out of bed, goes into the closet, and shuts the door. He joined this up with a clip from an outer space movie - - the cosmonaut opens the hatch and floats out into space. You would think that these clips would never work side by side: one is in black and white, the other in color - - they’re completely unrelated, thematically - - and the closet door opens vertically whereas the hatch opens horizontally. And yet because he so carefully calibrates the gesture of the moment, it works beautifully. It was one of the most impressive moments of the whole experience.
I was surprised at how many movies feature someone getting up at 4:30 AM, there was a montage of alarm clocks going off at 4:30. Another montage at 5, and 5:30, and 6, 6:30, 7, 7:30. It can be a while before I hear an alarm clock go off, especially one of those old ones with the two bells and the hammer going back and forth.
A few sequences that stick out: around 5 AM, the cops pulled into Norma Desmond's driveway and saw Joe Gillis in the pool (*Sunset Blvd*). A bit later a man stood in Tony Perkins' apartment interrogating him and asking him to get dressed and go with him (*The Trial*). Charles Boyer woke up with Ingrid Bergman, on what I assume is the morning after their wedding, before things turn ugly (*Gaslight*).
There are a few fascinating sequences where things happen in real time, when they don't happen that way in the original film. Like in *Scenes from a Marriage*, Liv Ullmann gets out of bed, goes to the bathroom, goes back to the bathroom, opens the shower curtain, throws a newspaper at Erland Josephson to wake him up, and lays down on the floor and does some exercises. This all happens within a couple minutes in the movie, but Marclay intercuts it with moments from other movies, so it takes the 10 minutes it would take in real time. He did the same thing with a getting-up sequence in *Seven*, with Brad Pitt getting up and Gwyneth Paltrow staying in bed. Before things turn ugly.
There was a montage of dream sequences, sometimes with two or three sets of images superimposed upon each other, and two or three things happening on the soundtrack. But the experience is never overloaded, Marclay does a brilliant job of pacing.
6:06 PM to 10:02 PM
I arrived at 5:35 PM and had to wait in line for a half hour, and when I did get in, I was sitting on the floor. But someone behind me left about ten minutes later, so I took that seat. A few highlights: Dietrich having a heated (but chilly) exchange with Clive Brook, talking about the watch she had given him years before (*Shanghai Express*). Cher and Nicolas Cage meeting outside the Met to see *La Bohème* (*Moonstruck*). And a lovely clinch between Meryl Streep and Robert DeNiro (*Falling in Love*). Have you seen that movie? Her hair and the score are very dated, but I remember it as a good movie.
Sometime after 8:00 PM there were a lot of people on Death Row: Sean Penn of course, with Susan Sarandon emoting without makeup (*Dead Man Walking*), and a string of other people anxiously looking at the phone, waiting for a reprieve from the Governor. Hilarious. On the flip side, he included three or four two- or three-second clips of Delphine Seyrig in *Last Year at Marienbad*. Almost unbearable beauty, a real masterpiece of eye makeup (the girl’s got on plenty of it, and the effect is sublime).
The sequence from 9:30 PM to 10 PM was my favorite of the whole experience, because it contained much of the end of one of my favorite movies ever, *Laura*. A clock figures prominently in the plot of that movie, so it makes sense that he would use so much of it. Plus that music is so damn Hollywood! He often bled the score into the surrounding clips.
And the most charming clip of the whole *Clock* was leading up to 10:00 PM - - a clip from *Night and Day*, the 1946 Cole Porter biopic with Cary Grant (not to be confused with *De-Lovely*, the de-plorable 2004 Cole Porter biopic with Kevin Kline). In the clip he shows Porter writing the intro to “Night and day”. I guess he’s already heard the beat beat beat of the tom tom, because the clip starts with him hearing the clock tick. He plays a few chords on the piano, and speaks over it, “Like the tick tick tock of the stately clock as it stands against the wall…” He waits a moment. He hears the rain outside. “Like the drip drip drip of the raindrops when the summer shower is through, so a voice within me keeps repeating: you, you, you.” The whole thing is too ridiculous, but Grant delivers the scene with such sincerity and charm, and you have to admit it’s a gorgeous song.
He surprised me by using clips from TV shows: a few episodes of *The Twilight Zone*, a few *Columbo* clips, and most hilariously, a few from *MacGyver*.
One thing I noticed in the early morning portion I saw before, and was even more prominent now: he uses a lot of clips of someone changing the time on a clock or their watch. He inserts them at the new time - - so if someone’s watch says 7:35 and they change it to 8:22, he puts the clip at 8:22.
Fri 7/20/12, 9:45 PM to
4:28 AM Sat 7/21/12
I talked Richard into going with me. I had hoped that we could get in at 9:30, to see all of the *Laura* clips, but the line was longer than I thought - - we waited for over an hour, he got in at 9:45, I got in around 9:55. But we did still get to see Waldo Lydecker get shot, and whisper, “Goodbye, Laura. Goodbye, my love…” Richard left around 11:00. And he liked it a lot!
I had heard that midnight was very exciting. I was expecting a lot of New Year’s Eve clips, and I don’t think he had a single one, maybe that seemed too pat to him. The stroke of midnight showed Big Ben being blown up in *V for Vendetta*, that was impressive. And the very next clip was Bonnie Blue having a nightmare and being comforted by her father in *Gone With the Wind*. You can see Big Ben out the window, it’s about 12:01.
I couldn’t believe how many people were there overnight. There was a big turnover at 2 AM - - lots of people leaving, who had been there since 10 PM or before, and an equal number of people just arriving, probably having just come from a bar (or two). The seating was tight, at one point there were five people on my IKEA couch. That was snug. I have to confess that I took a short nap here and there. At about 1:30 I thought I couldn’t possibly stand another three hours, but I stuck it out and was glad I did. It would be a big disappointment not to see the whole thing, and there’s no way I’d be making a special trip there to see 1:30 AM to 4:30 AM.
Around 2 AM there was a clip from the Judy Garland movie *The Clock* - - I was waiting for that, just because of the title. Sometime between 2 AM and 3 AM there was a clip from the end of the *Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?*, Nick and Honey getting the truth from George and Martha about their son, and George saying, so warmly, “Home to bed, children. It’s way past your bedtime.”
Another highlight, one I was hoping to see - - at 3 AM, Margo Channing was awakened by a phone call, the call that Eve Harrington had ordered, so Margo could wish Bill Sampson a happy birthday at midnight Los Angeles time (*All About Eve*). 4 AM was a riot - - a montage of people waking up the answer the phone and saying, “Why are you calling me, it’s four in the morning!” Very funny, about five or six clips of exactly that same scene, from different movies.
Sat 7/28/12, 8 AM to 1:15 PM
I must have been there a little before 8 AM, but I don’t remember what time. I heard that noon was very exciting, and it wasn’t. The segment from *High Noon* was very touching, in the way that he just showed it, without splicing out to anything else. And he used a sort of tired looking print of the film, the kind you’d see on TV twenty years ago, not the pristine restored version you’d see at Film Forum or on TCM. He put in two clips from *Pulp Fiction*: the scene with Travolta and Jackson showing up at Tarantino’s house, and Tarantino saying, “Don’t f-ckin’ ‘Jimmy’ me, Jules” - - and later, the monologue by Christopher Walken about the watch. Big laughs from the audience at both.
I kept waiting for him to use some clips from *Nick of Time*, a mediocre Johnny Depp thriller that takes place more or less in real time - - there were a few clips from it in this segment, and they were interesting. A few clips from *I Want To Live* - - Susan Hayward being led out of her cell, put in the gas chamber, the governor not calling (that same old routine), the cyanide being lowered, etc. I need to see that movie again, it looks marvelously overripe.
The funniest, most satisfying moment in this segment was from *The Dresser* - - Tom Courtenay begging the train conductor to hold the train for the actors, the train pulling away, and then Albert Finney shouting out, in his booming baritone, “STOP…THAT…TRAIN!” And he says it with such authority that the train actually stops. Perhaps of its own accord.
Tues 7/31/12, 2:05 PM to 6:10 PM
Such a disappointment - - I missed 50 minutes. I went the second-to-last day that it was open, and showed up in line at 10:45, thinking surely I wouldn’t have to wait more than two and a half hours, since I’d never waited more than an hour. Well, I waited in line for over three hours and didn’t get in until 2:05, which means I didn’t see from 1:15 PM to 2:05 PM. Ah well, I’m sure it’ll be back in town at some point, probably in the new few years (it was a big hit).
I have to say that the bloom went off the rose a bit in these last two days, the film started to lose its allure. There were many moments that were witty or thrilling or touching, but it got to be a bit of an ordeal. These marathon sorts of things do have an element of endurance, and that’s part of the experience, but both days I found myself looking forward to the time when I could leave. I’d say I was looking at my watch, but I don’t wear a watch, and there would really be no point. Which might be why time goes by so slowly in *The Clock* - - you’re constantly aware of time going by, in a way you never are in real life.
Looking back on the whole film, I’ll pick out a few films he went back to over and over: *Laura*. *Fatal Attraction*. *Gaslight*. *One Hour Photo*. *What About Bob?* Anything with Alain Delon. Anything with Big Ben - - it seems that Big Ben is the star of this film. And a train station is a great place to have a clock (*Falling In Love*, *Indiscretion of an American Wife*, *Love in the Afternoon*). On the whole, it was an extraordinary experience and I’m glad I did it.