The Clock: LACMA, 7/28/11 – 7/29/11

30 07 2011

I was late for The Clock.

Starting at 5pm on Thursday, July 28, LACMA screened the complete 24 hours of Christian Marclay’s The Clock in the Bing Theater.

Recently awarded the prestigious Golden Lion at this year’s Venice Biennale, The Clock is a 24-hour single-channel montage constructed from thousands of moments of cinema and television history depicting the passage of time. Marclay has excerpted each of these moments from their original contexts and edited them together to create a functioning timepiece synchronized to local time wherever it is viewed—marking the exact time in real time for the viewer for 24 consecutive hours. The sampled clips come from films of all genres, time periods, and cultures, some lasting only seconds, others minutes, and have been culled from hundreds of films, famous and obscure, into a seamless whole. The result, a melding of video and reality, unfolds with a seemingly endless cast of cameos. This free screening will allow The Clock to be seen in the way Marclay intended, by making it available in its entirety.

I’m not really a cinephile (although with the help of some brilliant friends, I’m working on it), but I am fascinated by the construction of time. Perhaps my awareness of different paces of life and different organizations of time comes from my own transition from a small town in NC to the metropolis of Los Angeles. When I fly between the two, it’s a little like a time warp. And both are oddly “imaginary” in their own ways.

It was rather appropriate that I was running late for The Clock this past Thursday. After all, traffic dictates time in Los Angeles. I was supposed to meet a friend for coffee in Thousand Oaks at 3pm. She needed to push it back to 3:30pm, then I got stuck in traffic on the 405 and didn’t arrive until about 4pm. (I know, I know: I should have left as if I were still meeting her at 3:30.) We had a wonderful time catching up, and I left Thousand Oaks a little after 5pm – arriving to LACMA around 7:15pm. This actually worked to my advantage because parking was free after 7pm. Time is also money – and as a grad student, I am all about saving money. A 24-hour screening on weekdays (Thursday through Friday) invites its own questions about who has a work schedule that permits such a crazy full-day artistic experience. Many people came and went over the course of the screening, most only willing and able to take a few hours out of their schedule for the exhibit. There was a packed theater with a waiting line of hundreds around 10pm which gradually dwindled to about 50 people by 3am.

In my 12 hours with The Clock, I experienced a heightened awareness of the construction of cinematic time: the brilliant illusion of continuity created in the editing process. Marclay pieces together fragments of silent films, old black and white movies, and contemporary color films in striking juxtaposition. Each minute contains multiple clocks, wristwatches, pocketwatches, hourglasses, and other time-keeping devices in completely different filmic genres from completely different decades – but because the clips occur “in the same minute,” there is an odd connection between them. A silent film star might seem to glance across the room at Tom Cruise through careful editing, and overlapping the underscoring can create a strange and wondrous continuity across completely separate genres. The audience is constantly engaged from such smart juxtapositions, not to mention the dated acting styles, fashions, slang, and technology. Time has turned many of these cultural objects into camp.

Moreover, my 12 hours with The Clock brought me to a heightened awareness of the construction of “real time.” Although a clock’s incessant ticking gives us the illusion of regulated and even continuity, time is a human construct – a continuity assembled from actually discontinuous parts. Many of Marclay’s filmic fragments point to the construction of our “real time,” such watches that are out of sync and clocks that have stopped and must be reset. Cultural habits associated with particular times rise to the forefront. I especially enjoyed how an array of performances (theater, opera, symphony orchestras) started at 8:15pm – late, as usual. Lots of exciting, dramatic action happened at midnight, one of those charged times in our cultural mythology.

In fact, most of the “important” action happened on the hour or on the half-hour. (This extended to the audience, as well, who tended to exit on hour and half hour marks.) The 3am – 4am block was especially self-reflexive, with movie characters talking about how exhausted they were and how they really should go to sleep – much like the 50 or so of us left in the theater at that point. The alarm clocks started at 4:30am and woke up dozing audience members every half hour until I left at 7:30am. Many characters smashed their alarm clocks. Clearly, we have a very emotional relationship to time and the objects that regulate it; in several clips, engraved watches were handed down as cherished family heirlooms.

Most obviously, 12 hours of The Clock takes a toll on the body. It brings an audience member to a physical experience of time: needing food and drink, going to the bathroom, readjusting positions after sitting in the same uncomfortable chair for so long, dozing off during the odd morning hours. As the sun rose on the silver screen this Friday morning, I became uncomfortably aware of how often we perceive our surroundings through a screen – through our watches, cell phones, computers. That day, I knew it was morning thanks to The Clock in the Bing Theater. I was exhausted and had another show to see that night. It was time to go.

We often experience time as a given and natural construct until we put our body through something radically out-of-sync with our normal schedule, something like a 24-hour screening of The Clock – or even something like jetlag after a flight halfway around the world. I am still a walking zombie today, recovering from the exhibit. But in these moments, our eyes may be opened to the fact that all times exist in the present, and our way of structuring time may not be the only way. For that beautiful and entertaining revelation, I’d consider my shared time with The Clock to be 12 hours very well spent.

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