Live Review: Spending Time with Christian Marclay's The Clock
Time after time.
I set out for Christian Marclay's free screening of The Clock last Saturday morning around 9am, silently cursing myself for not leaving earlier as I had planned to avoid the long lines. Too late I discovered as I walked by the cockeyed clock with upside down numbers outside Lincoln Center and saw a large group snaked outside the Atrium. It was a few ticks before 10am. I settled in with a copy of The New Yorker and stood in a slow moving line, noticing my old 1970s-era gold-plated Seiko watch was running a bit slow. No worries -- I could set it to The Clock once inside.
An hour later, I was still waiting and my legs were getting a little weary as the big CNN clock in the distance struck 11, but I had already seen a portion of Marclay's masterpiece and I knew it was worth it. Back when it was playing at the Paula Cooper Gallery I entered around 11pm and got to see the midnight build-up, eventually staying beyond what I had planned to do (a common occurrence it seems.) I was excited to (maybe) be there at noon, but alas as the line got closer and the clock hands started to merge, traffic in the line stopped. Those inside wanted to see what happened at 12:00 and weren't budging. I imagined a flickering Gary Cooper walking down a dusty main street on the other side of the wall. I finally got in at 12:10, a fact confirmed by a black and white drawing room wall clock somewhere in England and stayed rooted to my spot until 3pm. The experience is like that.
In some ways, Marclay's 24-hour work is a series of gags relying upon a lifetime of cinematic set-ups. Characters stare meaningfully out of windows only to be greeted by people and settings out of time and space -- cowboys gaze at spacemen and B-Movie gangsters from the 1940s converse with suburban housewives in the '90s. It's word play in the language of cinema. A massive explosion that should have deadly effects only seems to mildly inconvenience Oliver Hardy and Peter Sellers. Clocks are wound with loving care and smashed in fury; watches are consulted with anxiety, disbelief and nonchalance.
The film I ended up seeing belongs to me alone. As I looked past the silhouetted heads -- each of whom turned to each other with recognition at different moments -- I saw people enter and leave, inevitability creating subtly different narratives. The 12:10 - 3pm Clock seemed particularly preoccupied with mortality: everything from Laurence Olivier's Yorick speech to a funeral in Woody Allen's Interiors. It makes sense I suppose, if like one of the characters on screen, you see time as something which is continually "cutting our heads off" -- he smashed a clock too as Sidney Poitier looked on.
While the night belongs to thieves, burglars, insomniacs and deviants, the early afternoon hours featured men of industry breaking for lunch, slackers and the infirm sleeping in late, lushes indulging in alarmingly early cocktails and marital infidels.
Marclay deflates moments of serious danger, while heightening the tension of the mundane, with tricks of editing, expertly layered sounds and the elasticity of expectations. While explosions and bullets are often revealed to be cinematic fakery, people did die on the screen, including one very young boy.
A few hardy souls have watched the entire 24 hours at a stretch, but after two hours of waiting and nearly three of sitting I reluctantly threw in the towel, craning my neck back, on my way out, wondering, ''what will he do next?" Since attending the screening last year in Chelsea I found myself wishing the film were still there each time I walked by the gallery, the ghost of the experience forever superimposed on the building. Now I can't help imagining the frames I have not yet seen, existing like a dark outline around the sections I have.