(Don’t) Stop ‘The Clock’: Watch Time Tick Away on the Big Screen

The Clock by Christian Marclay // Dutch Girl in London

Could you imagine watching a 24-hour long film without a main plot and with clocks as its main protagonists? Although this principle might sound like it could be a tedious ordeal, Christian Marclay’s impressive video collage The Clock consisting of about 12,000 film and television clips actually makes for an unforgettable experience. This special video work opened at Tate Modern on Friday 14 September and I went to see it yesterday morning, spending four hours in Christian Marclay’s carefully curated cinematic world.

It’s a simple idea (which took three years to execute though): cut up thousands of films and television shows to combine all the scenes in which the time is told either visually through clocks, watches, sundials, microwave displays etc or orally through conversation. Then arrange those scenes chronologically in such a way that the displayed time is synchronised with the real time for 24 hours long. So, when you watch the film at 3.05am, it will also be 3.05am in the film at that very moment. For someone who has some problems with reading analogue clocks, I found the film not only fascinating, but also rather educational. [Insert wink emoji here.]

What does time mean to you?

While it’s both mesmerising and intriguing to watch a film whose basic main drive is the display of the accurate time, following people’s everyday business, I realise being constantly confronted with the time made me feel a bit anxious. It wasn’t helped by the fact that I started watching the film at 9am and saw onscreen characters oversleeping and rushing out of bed for the first few hours.

Take a step back and think for of those moments you look at the clock during the day. It’s usually when you need to do something or some sort of action is required from you, right? Whether it’s getting up at a certain time, catch the train to work at a particular time etc., time often dictates your course of the day.

The Clock by Christian Marclay // Dutch Girl in London
Tracey Emin’s LED installation ‘I want my time with you’ by the St Pancras station clock

Being self-employed and working from home, I thankfully don’t need to worry about my horrible commute twice a day anymore, but I do associate clocks and time with travelling (think train station clocks and airport clocks) and making sure I’m somewhere on time. If there’s one thing about travelling that can make me anxious, then it’s time – more specifically arriving at my destination on time. It can literally give me nightmares the day before a trip!

Unfortunately, the clock is ticking, the hours are going by. The past increases, the future recedes. Possibilities decreasing, regrets mounting.”

– Haruki Murakami, Dance Dance Dance

I mentioned above that the basic main drive of The Clock is to display time – making the film an accurate round-the-clock timepiece and a more arty alternative to my digital iPhone time display – but there’s obviously much more to this. Else it wouldn’t have had been able to entertain thousands of visitors over the last years with queues of people waiting to see it at prestigious galleries all over the world!

The Clock is also a great document of cinema history featuring clips from thousands of films and TV series, ranging from Four Weddings and a Funeral to Videodrome to The Magic Christian featuring Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr. Film lovers will definitely enjoy watching The Clock even only if it were to identify the sources of these clips and to see the (clean-shaven) babyfaces of famous actors such as Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep. Some ambitious soul created a Wiki page listing all the films that appear in Christian Marclay’s The Clock which you can access here. How many of these films do you recognise?

The Clock by Christian Marclay //Dutch Girl in London
Photo taken during my 6-week artist residency in late Robert Rauschenberg’s kitchen.

There might not be a straightforward plot or narrative in a traditional sense, but when you start considering the film as a whole and see how it documents people’s daily routines throughout the 24-hour timeframe, you realise this document of everyday’s social human behaviour is the story. The Clock mainly consists of English-spoken clips so certain habits might be very different from those in non-Western cultures, but I guess we can all relate to the general build-up of the day: getting up in the morning and getting ready for the day (I was surprised to see people still waking up at 11.30am though!), going to work, having lunch, travelling back home from work, eating dinner and relaxing in the evening. I haven’t seen what happens at nighttime in the film, but I imagine it would be clips of people sleeping, going out to party, or seedy figures who are up to no good.

Marclay montaged these thousands of film scenes together in a very clever way, ensuring the film has a pleasing flow to it. I think that in other artists’ hands, the film could have ended up as an self-indulgent art project, but Marclay actually succeeded in making an entertaining and fascinating film with plenty of humour that will make you laugh out loud. Take for example the memorable scene from Pulp Fiction when the character of Christopher Walken visits young Bruce Willis to return him his father’s watch. The incorporation of Walken’s whole story of how the precious watch had been hidden up in a number of adult men’s behinds during wartime sure had me cracking up. (pun not intended)

Marclay also made very clever use of sound in the film, building up suspense in the last few minutes before the new hour starts which felt very exciting to me as it felt like something big was about to happen. By montaging so many separate clips together, each with their own specific sounds, Marclay not only created a new narrative but also a whole new soundtrack. The more I think of this piece, the more I realise the scale of this project and admire the dedication and effort Marclay and his team put into this. I will definitely return to the installation in the next months to see what happens at other times of the day. It has definitely made me hypersensitive to clocks and suddenly see them everywhere, making me think of Marclay’s video collage.

Want to see The Clock for yourself?

The Clock is on display every day during regular opening hours at Tate Modern till 20 January 2019 with special 24-hour long overnight screenings on 6 October, 3 November and 1 December 2018. Entrance is free and seating is very comfortable: the room itself looks very striking with rows white sofas lined up so neatly in the dim-lit art space.

What is your relationship to time and clocks? As I wrote in my blog post, I associate time and looking at clocks with some sort of (re)action. I’m curious to hear what time as a concept means to you! Share your thoughts in a comment below, thanks!
Zarina xx

Photo credits for the clock collage at the top on Bigstock (from top to bottom, left to right): TeroVesalainen, FlyntBozhena Melnyk, Awe Inspiring ImagesSongquan Deng, Babar760Fesenko, Quality Stock Arts.