Christian Marclay’s The Clock
Last week, I attended (a portion) of LACMA’s 24-hour screening of the museum’s newly-acquired The Clock by Christian Marclay. I watched the video work from 8:00 until a little after midnight, and LACMA’s Bing Theater was packed the entire time. People shuffled out at the bottom of each hour, allowing more people in. When I left at 12:15, there was still a line of eager museum visitors all the way down the side of the Art of the Americas building. The Clock has been on view pretty much from the time it was acquired back in May, and just closed this past weekend. If you didn’t get the opportunity to see it, fear not, I’m sure it will be back—it’s a huge crowd pleaser.
The showing attracted a mixed bag of attendees; The Clock is more fun to watch in a diverse group of people. Older viewers recognized clips I didn’t; there were big laughs for a dinner scene from The Odd Couple, and more laughs for a Vincent Price clip. I held my own when I recognized a young Catherine Deneuve, a pivotal scene from Hitchcock’s Rope, and Dustin Hoffman in drag in Tootsie. The oldtimers were stumped by a clip from Sex and the City. Some clips I wanted to go on longer, but I quickly forgot about them because there were five or more news clips in the next minute.
The Clock revealed when we are most aware of time, both in real life and in movies; The Clock features a lot of train stations, lots of doctors calling the time of death in operating rooms, teams of spies synchronizing watches, and lots of people asking “what time is it?” There are also numerous shots of London’s Big Ben, abundant shots of Grand Central Station, and multiple scenes of fathers giving their sons the gift of a watch.
People, people in the movies at least, do specific things at certain times of the day. At 8:00, people flock to the theater. At 8:15, the house lights go dim, the audience quiets down, the curtain raises and a slew of performers jubilantly enter stage. People also like to eat between the hours of eight and nine: The Clock featured a variety of awkward family meals, TV dinners, and even Hannibal Lector preparing a gourmet feast. Between 9:00 and 10:00, people like to take baths and prepare themselves for the night’s adventures. At 10:00, things start to get spooky. (At 10:35 there is a short downpour.) After 11:00, organized crime is on the rise. And at 11:50, people are fond of climbing onto ledges of tall buildings.
At the beginning and end of each hour I could feel the audience tense in anticipation. Church bells chime, cuckoo clocks chirp, and alarms go off. The audience was clearly most eager to see what would happen at midnight. What kind of clips would be chosen? There are so many New Years countdowns in movies (would it be too obvious?), or would it be a Cinderella situation with the strokes of midnight? Would it be both?
SPOILER ALERT: What actually happened at midnight was unexpected (no New Years countdown, no Cinderellas). There was a countdown, which was followed by the chiming of midnight and ended in a blink-long clip from V for Vendetta, in which Big Ben (who had already made its fair share of cameos in The Clock) is blown up. The destruction of the clock at midnight might mean something, or it might not considering that in the next second the clock starts again.
In The Clock, both subject and artwork measure time, but the experience of watching the clock is more like getting lost in time. Each hour seems to pass so quickly, despite the fact you are minutely observing the passing of each minute and sometimes each second. I could easily convince myself to stay for a whole 24 hours, and at the end of it would come out thinking with equal parts disbelieve and triumph: I can’t believe I just spent 24 hours watching that.
Here is a link to a post with a video someone snuck of The Clock when it was shown at Dasha Zhukova’s Garage Center.