Review: Christian Marclay’s Film, The Clock

We enter the theatre at 14:01. We had been queuing for at least forty minutes and had watched the queue grow even longer behind us. We had picked a good time.

Christian Marclay’s 24-hour long film, The Clock screened at the Tate Modern from 14th September to the 20th January. My sister and I went to see it after I had read about the exhibition in Ben Lerner’s novel 10:04.  I had researched into Marclay’s piece,fascinated by the concept: a montage of film clips with clock faces showing the actual time. And for the hour an a half we watched, I was absorbed.

The time you go will affect the sorts of clips you see. Our two o’clock visit reflected a lot of afternoon activities: trains, schools but also some events outside of routine, such as a time bomb counting down. I imagined if we had been able to watch all 24 hours and the range of clips and types of films at other times, like two in the morning.

Although it should not have been, the variety of clock faces was surprising- There were clocks on walls, Big Ben, Grand Central Terminal, CCTV footage, grandfather clocks, pocket watches, train timetables, wrist watches, school clocks, bomb clocks, and rooms of clocks. This made me think about directorial decisions; why include a mention of time? Sometimes the clock’s presence was merely part of a setting, but there was a decision made at exactly what time it should show. Time was a prop, a grounding in reality.

Throughout the film, I felt an acute sense of time. There was no need to look at my phone; I  knew how long we had been there. Minutes passed by at different speeds: the first forty minutes happened so quickly then the next ten felt slower. Each minute transported us to a new scene, a new film, and I found myself craving continuation and a narrative. Marclay definitely indulged with the idea of there being a narrative through the editing of the clips. Often a watch was looked at and the next film would be someone else’s eyeline. Sound was also played with; there was music that did not belong in the film itself that bridged clips, shaping and guiding the tones and forming a loose connection. It was subtle but these edits alluded to the idea of a narrative while confirming its absence.

There must still be an element of choice behind the clips that made the final film. For example, sometimes more than one is inserted into the minute. One of my favourite clips was a scene from Hook (1991). In a room of clocks, Hook encourages Jack to smash the clocks with a hammer. Make time stand still, laddie”, Hook says. It feels almost poignant in light of the experience of watching the film. As if Marclay had written the line himself.

At 14:50 my Fitbit vibrated to remind me to get my hourly one-hundred steps in. I felt like I was existing in multiple  realities of time. It also became clear that although time is ever-present, it is only relevant in certain situations. Just before we got up to leave at 15:30, there was a war scene. I realised how many clips had been set in the city and in the workplace, where time governs routine and jobs and school. In war, time has a different meaning and less relevance and so consequently, in film, clocks are not featured. And then perhaps the type of films that do feature clocks form a genre of their own.

My sister and I really enjoyed the experience of travelling through time and across media history. The range of films was satisfying; there were foreign films, some famous films, some unknown. And in a lot of the films, including Hook, a clock’s physical presence led to time being talked about. In The Clock, time becomes self-conscious, constantly aware we were moving through it. And as we listen to the ticking indicator of our immediacy, we do nothing but watch.

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