Time Gentlemen Please

On my last day in London I went to see The Clock at the Tate Modern — Christian Marclay has created a 24hr film that’s a LOT more interesting than 24hr Psycho. It’s essentially a day-long scratch video  composed of snippets from movies of the last 120 years or so, all on the theme of time, most featuring clocks — clocks arranged in the edit so that if you enter the screening room at 11.20, as I did, you will see Susan Hayward facing execution at 11.20 in I WANT TO LIVE! (“Why is she – ?” began a small child before being hushed.)

Three minutes later I was startled to see an actor I had the pleasure of working with, Graham Crowden, speaking the time aloud in BRITANNIA HOSPITAL. He was the only I actor I’ve known personally to turn up while I was watching.

We also got PETULIA. And REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE (above), which was startling as I’d just been interviewing a crew member from that one the day before. Of course HIGH NOON turned up at the appropriate time, intercut with Waring Hudsucker making a flying exit from Hudsucker Industries and various heist films. Lots of heist films all through, as people like THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN naturally need to synchronize their watches. Lots of people hurrying to catch trains, too — fitting, as I had a train to catch at 3. This is a movie you can watch without any fear of losing track of the time, which is the exact effect most other films are supposed to produce. It was quite a strange sensation: as a whole bunch of films illustrate the passage from 12:05 to 12:10, time is drawn out and it takes a while to get there, but at the same time the film is extremely diverting — What’s that one? I know that one! — and so the time seems to pass very quickly when you look back at how long you’ve been sat there. Time is simultaneously being stretched, squashed, and kept absolutely in place.

I stayed for the duration of a regular feature film, but would really like to see the whole thing so I could declare “This is where I came in!” Is that a thing? Does anybody take a seat at 9am and stay there until 9am the following morning, when the same clip starts showing? Toilet breaks would be permissible, and you could probably smuggle some modest snacks in… it would take care of my London accommodation, saving me the need to sleep on an inflatable bed that slowly thins out and lowers me to the floor by morning…

8 Responses to “Time Gentlemen Please”

  1. I saw several hours of this (over two visits) at the San Francisco MOMA. Some people did make it for the full 24 hours. There was a premium on being there at the 12 midnight changeover.

    What I found remarkable is how quickly — as in, immediately — you’re sucked into a pseudo-narrative by the readability of the film language. Guy looking intently to the left from film A followed by guy looking intently to the right from film B = there’s a movie going on here! The fact that there’s no actual story doesn’t detract from the hypnotic effect of the story-telling mechanisms. Maybe the ever-advancing clock, always moving towards its next on-the-hour climax, provides a kind of story.

  2. I really hope they had Harold Lloyd in “Safety Last”.

  3. chris schneider Says:

    Puts me in mind of Losey’s TIME WITHOUT PITY (was that film included?) — but, then again, most things do.

    Ah, I remember the last time I was sucked into a pseudo-narrative …

  4. There’s a Wiki page where people are trying to list every film in the show: Safety Last and Time Without Pity do indeed appear. I’ve added Petulia to do my bit for the cause.

  5. I’ve watched two different sections of about feature length, and I found it completely absorbing, for exactly the reasons Katya articulates. I’m lucky enough to live in a city where a museum owns a copy, so I assume it’ll screen again in the not-too-distant future; I’m eager to try some of the overnight hours. One of my kids watched with me last year and he was fascinated, too.

  6. A friend experimented with randomly cutting together randomly recorded VHS material, and found that you just can’t escape narrative. Here, the Kuleshov effect creates a kind of glue that joins it together. And eyeline matches are irresistible.

  7. I should add that since first seeing part of The Clock, I am hyper-conscious of any mention of time or images of clocks in more recent films, as though I’m assuming they’ll make their way into The Clock 2: Another 24 Hours. I had precisely this reaction to a scene in Roma last night that makes very specific mention of time.

  8. I just remembered a great ticking watch on a corpse’s wrist in Vivement Dimanche, and wondered if they used it…

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