Friday, July 27, 2012

Watching The Clock: II. 2:37 p.m.-6 p.m. / III. 11:04 a.m. - 2:37 p.m. / IV. 8 a.m. - 11:04 a.m.

BROOKLYN, N.Y.—My quest to watch as much of The Clock as possible continues on (check out my first post on Christian Marclay's video installation here to get you up to speed).

II. 2:37 p.m. - 6 p.m.

After seeing The Dark Knight Rises last Friday morning, I decided on a whim to walk over to the David Rubinstein Atrium and try to take in some of the afternoon hours of The Clock. It wasn't the most pleasant of waits: rain started to fall pretty heavily, and my big umbrella wasn't quite strong enough to prevent some rainwater from getting through and dropping onto my clothing. 

Taken while waiting on line to see The Clock on Friday, July 20

But after about 45 minutes of waiting, I finally got out of the rain and got indoors.

I walked in to clips of people in various states of waiting—the two titular children of Ingmar Bergman's Fanny and Alexander (1982) waiting to see their mother during a funeral service; the titular 12-year-old drug-runner of Fresh (1994) waiting around in his room; and so on. The midday hours of Christian Marclay's Alternate Cinema World of The Clock, it seems, is a time of least until 3 p.m., when children all over the movie world are getting out of school (Marclay prominently features the 1987 high-school comedy Three O'Clock High to lead up to and then punctuate the moment The Clock turn 3). 

About Schmidt

What 3 p.m. is to children (except for the children of François Truffaut's Small Change, who seem to get out of class at 4:30), 5 p.m. is to most adult working stiffs. For 5 p.m., Marclay chooses a clip from About Schmidt (2003), in which Warren Schmidt basically stares at the clock in his office until it turns 5, then quietly gets up and leaves. Certainly compared to the lead-up to 3 p.m., the lead-up to 5 p.m. is a considerably quieter, drama-free affair, without Marclay's usual increase in tension. It's just this one clip—and then, it's 5.

During this nearly three-and-a-half-hour viewing session of The Clock, I decided to try to take some notes this time around. One random thing I noted on a few occasions: Even though it's the afternoon, some of the black-and-white clips Marclay uses practically look as if they're at night, so shadowy are the interiors. Maybe black-and-white photography can just have that effect in general, without color to offer more concrete indications of time of day? (Or, of course, it could just be careful studio lighting. Either one.)

Another thing I noted is Marclay's sense of playfulness from moment to moment: how he sometimes uses a certain clip as a jumping-off point for a seemingly spontaneous montage of similar clips. So, in my notes, I note that at around 4:10 p.m., Marclay has a clip of someone picking up a phone and making a frantic call; then he throws in clips of other movie characters making frantic calls, binding them all together in a quick-edited flurry. I doubt this moment has anything in particular to say about 4:10 p.m.; it's just a bit of momentary inspiration that Marclay ran with. 

Miami Vice

Marclay also gets a bit cute with some of the clips he throws in that stretches his every-clip-with-a-timepiece-showing-the-time concept. During the 5 p.m. hour, Marclay treats us to a clip from one of the closing scenes of Michael Mann's 2006 feature film of Miami Vice, in which Isabella asks of Crockett before they part ways forever, "Remember when I said 'Time is luck'?" From what I remember, I don't recall there being any indication of the specific time in that scene (though the skies in the backdrop have enough light that, if one didn't know better, one could plausibly assume it was taking place in the afternoon)—but hey, time is a "theme" of that clip, fitting into Marclay's larger mosaic, right?

I offer that last point as an observation more than as a criticism. Time is, well, the essence of The Clock—a work which, among its many achievements based on what I've seen thus far, does have the ability to make us aware of just how much power film editing can have as far as eliding and compressing real time goes. During the 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. hours, for instance, there are clips from some film (I'm not sure which) featuring a character tied to a bomb with a clock attached to it. Marclay cuts back to those clips whenever there are shots of the clock showing specific times—a potentially revelatory contrast to the way those clips were edited in the original source material, without strict regard for adhering to "real time" the way Marclay does.

Army of Shadows (1969)

As I left the David Rubinstein Atrium at around 6 p.m., many of the characters in Marclay's Alternate Cinema World were getting ready for dinner. Only a half hour or so later, I found myself waiting for dinner in a nearby restaurant. If that isn't a classic example of life imitating art, then I don't know what is.

III. 11:04 a.m. - 2:37 p.m.

Taken while waiting on line to see The Clock on Saturday, July 21. A much better day for waiting, weather-wise!
The next day, I woke up early to catch some of the early morning/early afternoon hours of The Clock. Honestly, I wasn't even thinking about how Marclay would handle things as The Clock approached noon...but if any of you Clock skeptics out there want to understand why Marclay's video installation isn't a mere gimmick, you ought to try to at least check out this stretch to see how brilliantly he increases the tension, playing more so than usual on our desire to reach that all-important midpoint of our day. It's fitting that he uses music from Tom Tykwer's Run Lola Run (1999), with its steady disco beat adding "suspense" even to the ensuing non-Run Lola Run clips...

...and then noon finally hits...and The Clock just about explodes in sounds of alarms and images of clocks, seemingly one for each second. That stretch may be just about the most joyous moment I've experienced in a movie theater all year! (I do hope to get a chance, before this current run of The Clock is over, to see what he does for midnight.)

Christopher Walken in Pulp Fiction

The only other comment I have to offer regarding this particular three-and-a-half-hour stretch of The Clock regards clips used (and let's face it, one of the most appealing aspects of Marclay's video for us cinephiles comes in playing "spot-the-reference" games, though that's definitely not its only appeal). For one thing: It is during this section that Marclay includes the monologue Christopher Walken delivers in Pulp Fiction (1994) about the origin of the watch that Butch Coolidge values so highly. Personally, I always thought the punchline to this speech was pretty puerile (if you don't know it by now, then your head is clearly under some pop-culture rock), so I can't say I partook in the delighted laughter this moment garnered from most of the audience.

On a more positive note, a cut from Humphrey Bogart to Idris Elba—two actors who have made reputations taking us pretty deeply into tough guys—was pretty awesome, I must say.

IV. 8 a.m. - 11:04 a.m.

Quentin Tarantino in Pulp Fiction

Speaking of Pulp Fiction: At around 8:17 a.m. or so, Marclay includes the clip of Jimmy going off on Jules in a panic fearing what will happen if his wife Bonnie happens upon their corpse-cleanup operation. Regardless of the fact that Marclay cuts out all of Jimmy's "dead nigger storage" dialogue within that scene, thus technically violating the "real time" of Tarantino's film, I also note that just a few minutes earlier, Marclay included this exterior shot of the Hawthorne Grill...

...the diner that Jules and Vincent eat in after they've cleaned up the bloody mess in their car. So basically, Marclay placed a shot that, chronologically in its source material, took place after that scene, and placed it before that scene in his video. 

There's an even more flagrant instance of this kind of fudging in the way Marclay breaks up the sequence seen above from Robert Bresson's The Devil, Probably (1977). The sequence in question is one in which two of its main characters are riding a bus, and Bresson throws in a montage of rear-view mirrors, hands clutching railings, feet stepping off the bus and so on—basically, a montage of everything except bodies and faces. (Consider it a modern-day variant of that abstracted joust in his previous film Lancelot of the Lake.) Marclay uses a snippet from this montage sometime during the 8 a.m. hour as part of his own montage of movie characters on their way to their day jobs. If memory serves, however, Marclay already used a different part of this sequence much later in his video—sometime within the early afternoon hours, during my 2:37 p.m. - 6 p.m. viewing session! But in the film, this happened, one assumes, in one stretch of time, not across two separate incidents!

Is Marclay "cheating" here? I'm inclined to think of this kind of thing as an indication of the poetic license Marclay feels the freedom to take even within his self-imposed "concept" for the work. There were already indications of this in my previous experiences with The Clock, as I suggested in discussing that Miami Vice scene above: clips here and there that didn't technically have a timepiece in it, but which made for a fitting emotional/thematic prelude to another clip or series of clips that did have timepieces in it. He's interested in making those kinds of intuitive connections in the way he strings clips together more than he is in producing a well-oiled machine. Besides, not everyone will have that same familiarity with the source materials and will thus be able to enjoy those clips in Marclay's repurposed context, free of prior knowledge. (On the other hand, I can't say having such prior knowledge necessarily enhances The Clock; if anything, it may detract from it, depending on your perspective.)

After that aforementioned Pulp Fiction clip, Marclay indulges in a, to my mind less problematic, bit of manipulation via sound editing as he allows the soundtrack of that clip to continue, with the sound dialed way down, as he moves onto his next clip, of a girl waking up and getting out of bed. It's as if the girl was overhearing the argument in Pulp Fiction from her closed-door bedroom; it most certainly is not in Tarantino's film. Yeah, it's perhaps a bit cutesy, but also I think it speaks to a kind of democratizing spirit underpinning Marclay's project. In his Alternate Cinema World, all films are equal; whatever the time zone, time period or setting of the individual films, they are all united by that one grand constant in all of our lives: Time Itself.

Thus, so far, I have seen almost half of The Clock. How much more of Marclay's work will I be able to see before its current Lincoln Center Festival run ends on Aug. 1? Keep on watching this space...

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