Christian Marclay's The Clock.

Film Yesterday I fulfilled a decade long dream and finally saw a section of Christian Marclay's The Clock, which is currently on display at Tate Modern.  The supercut of supercuts, it's a twenty-four hour video piece in which the artist stitches together thousands of shots from movies featuring clocks which runs parallel to the actual time.  So if you're watching at about twenty past two in the afternoon, you can see Peter Parker being fired from his job in Sam Raimi's Spider-man 2 which gives way to shots of Fox Mulder in The X-Files under clock which tells a similar time.  It was first introduced to me on The Culture Show in 2010 when it was first released on the occasion of its premiere at the White Cube Gallery.

Judging by that piece, the presentation room is just as much a part of the installation as the film itself.  Just as back then, Tate Modern have created a luxurious screening space with pitch black walls and over a hundred IKEA Klippan sofa in white fabric (which I recognised almost immediately because we have one in our living room), just bright enough in the space so that you're able to find a seat without falling over, aided by an invigilator with a torch.  On entering I asked if there were any spaces at the front and on spotting half a sofa free up there I made my way over there and sat down, sharing the furniture with a slightly older man of which I can tell you very little else due to the darkness.

By that time it was about twenty to twelve, so I arrived just in time to see Robert Powell hanging from the hands of the Westminster Clock in The 39 Steps, of which extended clips are employed presumably because this is such an iconic shot of a time piece.  From that moment on I was enthralled.  There are plenty of illicit shots of the piece on YouTube shot with camera phones at weird angles, but none of them quite prepared me for the sheer range of movies and shots and how they intertwine and play off each other, music and sound effects drawing scenes featuring actors and settings originally recorded with decades between, mixing diverse sources, some VHS, mainly DVD, rarely respecting aspect ratio as to make the cuts between less jarring.

With the 2010 release and the artist's background and presumably access to sources, despite the number of films and television programmes included, there is nevertheless a certain limit to the sources.  Much of the material is from English language sources although there is some French material.  No, I did not see anything from Doctor Who, although my hope is that at midnight during the period which few viewers have seen, the TV Movie's millennium celebration is featured.  Plus it's necessarily populist.  There was an audible guffaw from the packed room when The Gold Watch sequence from Pulp Fiction emerged and was played almost entirely (it's still probably Tarantino's greatest work).

Something which had been of interest beforehand was how Marclay would deal with the moments when the history of film or at least the parts he research didn't deliver a particular time.  Often he simply extends the length of the clip.  But more often he takes the opportunity to include a time related moment which doesn't actually feature a clock, a character looks at their watch or there's some dialogue about time itself.  There are also shots from an earlier part of a scene which are intercut with other material which pay off later.  Or at is the case with Nick of Time we're offered a staccato version of the film as we keep returning to the action at key moments to check in on how the character is doing.

Later in the day, I added the film to my Letterboxd diary.  Usually I don't include anything which I haven't seen in its entirety, but since that's near impossible, I made an exception.  In the review section, there's an extended comment from someone who claims to have seen all twenty-four hours which I urge you to read.  As he notices that these short clips are merciless against the only ok actors in comparison to those who're able to communicate a character's whole being in just a few seconds.  He also notes how montage sequences in some films are edited so that they appear in real time, like the aforementioned pizza delivery scene in Spider-man which is reduced to the initial warning that he has to deliver them on time, then the late delivery and then later his firing.

My original plan was to spend the whole day in front of the film, but as the clips continued some interesting things started to happen.  After the first hour, my mind began to almost glaze as the clips began to topple onto one another as similar tricks by the artist were being repeated albeit with different footage from other films to the previous hour.  I've forgotten almost as many films included as I remember.  Plus I can't not admit to dozing slightly here and there, partly because the couch was so comfy.  I kept myself awake by guessing the film sources in my head and marveling at actually just how many of these films I'd seen.  Plus I felt quite happy about getting up now and then to go to the bathroom, even though I'd be missing something.

Which meant that after about three hours, I felt like I'd seen enough and left.  Although I've seen reports online of people watching this continuously for twelve hours, I don't think that's what the artist was expecting.  The piece is clearly constructed to be dipped in and out of for various stretches, the viewer visiting the venue at various points in the day and that's certainly how I would have approached The Clock had Tate Modern been more accessible to me.  With the show on until January 20th there would be plenty of time.  On my way out of the door, I indicated to the invigilator that three hours seemed like long enough (to which he agreed) and wondered if the piece, this copy of which is part owned by Tate might visit Liverpool.  Wouldn't that be ironic.

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