We woke up at 4:30 Sunday morning, rolled out of bed, and, unshowered, drove into New York City to get in line for The Clock – the 24-hour film/ art installation showing at Lincoln Center until August 1.
If you haven’t heard about The Clock yet, it’s the ambitious project of collage artist Christian Marclay, who has pieced together 24 hours of film and television footage, in a minute-by-minute real time display of, well, time passing. How do you know time is passing? Each clip makes reference to the time, either with a visual shot of a clock or watch, or with a verbal reference to the time. When you enter the theater at say 6:15 p.m., you will quickly see that it is 6:15 p.m. on screen as well.
That’s pretty much what I knew about The Clock before going. That, and the fact that there might be a long line to get in during the couple of weeks that Lincoln Center was showing it for free at its David Rubenstein Atrium on Broadway and 63d Street. My husband was keen to see The Clock, so I started following #LCClock on Twitter to gauge wait times.
We decided early Sunday morning would be our best shot at getting in without a wait (Lincoln Center showed two complete 24-hour cycles last weekend), and we were right, because when we rolled in to the Upper West Side at 5:30 a.m., we strolled right into the Atrium and sat down in a cozy corner on one of the Ikea couches arranged theater-style in front of the movie screen. (We were told the wait time was 3 hours at midnight).
I love movies and culture — high and low — in general. I probably go to more concerts and films and exhibits than your typical suburban mom. But I am also quite fidgety and impatient and I confess that sometimes when I head out on a cultural adventure there is a nagging concern — Will this be really good or just good for me in an eat your-broccoli kind of way?
I was nervous about The Clock. I had seen some of those long-form real-time Andy Warhol movies from the 1960s, and while they were art, they were also pretty boring. I tend to be driven by narrative and really prefer plot-driven stories to anything else. My husband has a longer attention span than me (probably because he’s not on Facebook or Twitter!) and he was excited about seeing The Clock, so I dove in and figured I could be patient, but in all honesty, the thought of going to something with no plot and not knowing how long I would be there was a little challenging for me.
But it quickly became clear that my fears were unfounded; The Clock is mind-altering, perspective altering, and frankly, entertaining.
From the minute you lay eyes on The Clock, you experience a kind of shift in your world, as you travel from one time zone in the real world into the exact same time zone in the cinematic world. (The Clock is not actually a movie, but a computer program that synchs the video and audio reels to the current time).
And despite the fact that clocks are ever-present, you really do lose track of time as you experience the day in minute-by-minute vignettes. A single minute might be composed of clips from three or four different films, with the visual and sound cut and layered in such a way that they feel like a continuous narrative. And in several one-minute sequences, you may be seeing a very suspenseful moment or a cliffhanger that feels like it should unfurl in the next scene. But then the next scene is the next minute and the storyline from a minute ago may well not carry over into the next minute either because there is no meaningful transition to a next scene with a clock in it or because we are viewing in real-time, and that story’s climax may unravel over hours or days. After you’ve watched a few of these segments, your perspective begins to change and you actually no longer expect stories to unfurl the way they do in traditional narrative, and instead you are just eager to see what happens in the next minute.
Unlike traditional film narratives in which you have an expectation of a specific kind of story arc, developing over the course of, say a two-hour film, in The Clock, you are watching in minute-to-minute mode; then anticipating the quarter hour and eventually the hour markers to see what the next minute, fifteen minutes or hour will bring. You never really have a chance to get bored because things will likely change in just one minute.
Moreover, the longer you sit and watch The Clock (we stayed for around three and a half hours), the more you will be rewarded, as you will begin to notice leitmotifs and recognize patterns.You will likely laugh at cinematic jokes as you see actresses in their 20s in one minute age suddenly and appear in their 60s five minutes later, or stoners, unmoving from one hour to the next and the next. You’re bound to see favorite and forgotten film clips that will make you smile over the course of your viewing and you will look forward to the surprises that are in store next.
So despite the fact that it is a 24-hour piece, The Clock is truly a work to be enjoyed in the moment. In fact, it may well be the perfect art form for our attention deficit times.
For more info on The Clock:
Viewing times of The Clock at Lincoln Center
The Hours: How Christian Marclay Created the Utimate Digital Mosaic