Promotional Still from The Clock (detail) by Christian Marclay
THE PREMISE OF DAVID THOMSON'S great novel Suspects (1985) is that all the people in film noir either are related to or know each other. He fills out their otherwise abbreviated lives with what happened before, after, and during the film stories they inhabit, mingling the real and the fictional, the actors' present role with past and future ones. Thus Vivian Sternwood from The Big Sleep turns out to be best friends with Evelyn Cross Mulray from Chinatown and, later in life, has an affair with Jonathan Shields, the Kirk Douglas character in The Bad and the Beautiful. Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) from Sunset Boulevard marries the Count von Rauffenstein (Erich von Stroheim in La Grande Illusion) after marrying Max von Mayerling (Erich von Stoheim in Sunset Boulevard), and so on.
Christian Marclay's epic work The Clock — the winner of the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale, showing at LACMA until July 31 — ratchets this narrative playfulness up several notches, with implications for how we see not only visual storytelling (movies, television), but also time itself. The Clock is a film that lasts twenty-four hours, and every minute of the day is accounted for by at least one and often several images of clocks on buildings, clocks beside beds, grandfather clocks that need adjusting, watches on arms, car radios, cell phones, CCTV time codes, video tape recorders, and all other forms of twentieth- and twenty-first century time-keeping. Sometimes the clock is up-front and obvious, as in, say, a shot of the face of Big Ben; sometimes it's unobtrusively placed in the background on a wall or briefly glimpsed on someone's wrist. Its look ranges from the simple numbers of an alarm clock, to the digital, to the antique, to the numberless, with virtually every possibility (and every brand of clock) accounted for. You can come in at any time during the museum's hours, and sit on one of ten large comfortable couches to absorb as much as you'd like of the unfolding array of images. It takes a minute or two to realize that the usual expectations for story will be thwarted, but by then The Clock's unique rhythm has taken hold, and more traditional narrative expectations are replaced by a whole array of new connections.
According to the publicity, Marclay worked with six researchers for several years to pick the films, although the editing is almost entirely his own, with the adroit support of Quentin Chiapetta, the sound designer. The Clock might thus be seen as simply a clever collage (or better, montage) of the various ways in which visual narrative has been preoccupied with time and used the punctuation of the clock face to organize its stories. The film may seem at first a bit mechanical, unlike, say, the montages of great film moments that Chuck Workman pioneered with Precious Images (1986), which covered almost 500 films in eight minutes, won the Oscar for Best Live Action Short, and helped launch Workman on a career that included the feature-length The First Hundred Years (1995) for the American Film Institute, as well as the In Memoriam secti...read more