Notes on The Clock

In many ways the clocks are the least of it.

Take away the clocks and you’d still have a complex, and maybe more mysterious, work.

See the north side of the Bay Bridge in an old film noir, before its current animated lights; we can’t not juxtapose it with a recollection of the current bridge, now with the light array. One of the clock’s basic units: world war once, as in “the war between now and what once was.”

The early morning hours are dominated by people being awakened over and over and over by alarm clocks—often being alarmed themselves because they’ve overslept—and they or the camera then turn to and gaze out of windows.

It’s a kind of narrative that involves cumulative repetition. It’s musical in that the downbeat is the appearance of the clock. The fill is human biological and cultural behavior, the making of a metanarrative that might be called “how/when/where we sleep.”

As in: This bit of narrative is over, and it’s marked by the appearance of a clock. Next chapter. And that chapter is a variation on the theme that all the other chapters have set out, just a little different, moving the story forward minutely, into the overall narrative, which is a Human Day, or rather a Human Day as told to us by Hollywood in real time in the twentieth century. Long and drawn out, obscure and tedious, addictive and sweet: an artificial life-form with a life expectancy of twenty-four hours.

Life happens when we are engaged and stops when we look at the clock.

A literary speed of sixty chapters an hour (actually more complex because some minutes have multiple sections, multiple clocks, like double time or triple time).

Marclay offers new ways to measure time: How long does it take to fill an ashtray with cigarette butts? How long does it take to make love until the partners cum simultaneously? A bathtub to fill then empty? A tulip to drop its first petal? A liquor bottle to empty, shot by shot (sic)?

The image of the clock is the foot hitting first base, safe. By the way, have you noticed time is passing, your life is passing, you’re soon going to be out at the plate? Time is a machine; a time machine is a monkey wrench.

The pulse of black and white then color is the dualism of past and future. Bette Davis in 1960 in b/w dials a call on the phone, and a young Latino in color in the twenty-first century answers.

You can walk through a doorway, but not you, someone else, probably a different gender, from a different era, will exit. Peter Sellers opens the fridge door, and a young woman peers in. When you turn and look at something, what you see will be across decades of time and space, and you will have become someone else.

It’s a study of social infrastructure: what do we do with what, and when? In this artwork, in the last century, we lit matches to light cigarette after cigarette, candle after candle, in an assembly line of quotidian living. The clock and the telephone wedded, next to each other like couples in bed, fetishes of time and space. Also: we’ve got a thousand lamps and light bulbs, record players and glasses of water. “This preoccupation with clocks makes me crazy!” someone actually says.

“We are traveling through time in a machine constructed for this very purpose,” says Rod Taylor, but we and the machine and the purpose are different than he thinks.

There is one audience, and we are all sitting in it, always, along with Woody Allen and Doris Day and everyone who has ever seen.

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Comments (3)

  • connie lewallen says:

    One also becomes aware of film tropes; the reaching for the alarm clock in the morning, as you noted; the frequent shots of Big Ben; the nervous checking of the watch. It’s also fun to see what has changed over the years with regard to time telling. For example, no one puts their watch to their ear to see if it is still ticking; nor take a stop watch from a pocket; and one rarely sees the swinging pendulum of a grandfather clock.

  • Judy Bloch says:

    A clock in a film shot is a little like a gun in the first act of a play: it’ll go off—that is, time will tell—before the third act. Otherwise why would it be there? Or so Marclay’s edit would imply. Now let’s go back to the old films and see if that’s the case. And to expand upon Connie Lewallen’s response, how will we know if time is of the essence in a film when the shared/public clock has gone the way of the phone booth (not to mention the telephone)? I guess we’ll know in time.

  • 1:45 to 4 AM was rewarding, after a long wait in a line which itself becomes a kind of clock watching. I was unprepared–no nap, no coffee. Shot after shot of people doing what I wanted to do. Sleeping, dreaming, fucking, hugging a pillow. Eventually I kept thinking “this is great, but not as great as being asleep would be.” The conflict between life and art, playing out in an endurance contest. Clock watching, one more minute, one more minute. Except you want to watch, make the most of it, when will you be back? And then realizing, as with most things, there will be no resolution, you can’t watch it to the end, because the end happens whenever you leave. Drove home, went to bed, thought of all those actors with insomnia at 3:30 in the morning.

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