Christian Marclay’s latest film, “The Clock,” has a 24-hour run time synchronized with real time. Walk into a showing of “The Clock” at 4:25 p.m. and onscreen a clock reads 4:25 p.m. while a schoolboy waits for the final bell to ring. Marclay works as a collage artist, assembling readymade scenes from existing narrative films into a new object, in the same way that Marcel Duchamp assembled his readymades (notably a bicycle wheel and a wooden stool) into a new object that questions its own usefulness.
Marclay’s team of researchers, led by his editing assistant Paul Anton Smith, can be credited with finding each minute of the day on film – even the weird ones like 4:27 p.m. (Matthew Broderick places an awkwardly specific booty call) – while Marclay’s zeal for pattern shapes a meaningful essay on the human need to talk about time. In addition to shots of clocks on film, Marclay also incorporates dialogue references to time and discussions of the nature of time.
The length and pedantic subject matter of “The Clock” call to mind Andy Warhol’s “Empire,” a stagnant shot of the Empire State Building that lasts for eight hours and five minutes, in slow motion no less. But Warhol made “Empire” unwatchable on purpose; he never allowed abridged showings (Good thing he never lived to see it on YouTube!) On the other hand, “The Clock,” largely assembled from recognizable Hollywood films, is not only watchable, but mesmerizing. It played at the Museum of Modern Art during regular operating hours through January 21, and ran 24 hours in real time over three designated weekends. Contemplating “The Clock,” even for a half-hour, feels like a deep dream.
Marclay’s 1995 seven-and-a-half minute ode to telephone calls in film shows itself as a clear first draft for “The Clock.” His “Telephones” montage builds an immersive conversation where characters from different movies appear to talk to each other over the phone. Marclay doesn’t establish a clear narrative in “The Clock,” but his jarring juxtapositions create a clear sense of what different times of day feel like, notably the clockwatching anticipation that comes with the end of a day’s obligation by late afternoon. The sound design, by Quentin Chiappetta Media Noise out of Brooklyn, fluidly bridges the cuts, exaggerating and transforming the preexisting movie sounds.
From 4:25 p.m. to 5 p.m., Marclay shows how fast a minute can move, how slow a minute can move, and how much it can mean. In one scene, Samuel L. Jackson throws Ben Affleck against a car door, demanding, “Can you give me back my time?” In another scene, an Asian man sits on an overpass hawking watches. He smacks one against the side of his display table, ostensibly to catch the ears of passing customers, but the motion also looks like a way to pass the time during an otherwise boring job. Marclay’s clock montage strategically allows some movie scenes to include the context of their clock. At the train station in “Casablanca,” where Rick waits for Ilsa, the camera just catches a clock at 4:55 p.m. The clock never reappears, but Sam enters with Ilsa’s farewell letter. The scene ticks on until Rick gets on the train, alone.