The passage of time may seem painfully slow or maddeningly quick, exhilarating or bittersweet. However it is experienced, it has inspired numerous works of art in every era, genre, and medium, ranging from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and Joni Mitchell’s Circle Game to Salvador Dali's Persistence of Memory, with its famous melting pocket watches. Perhaps no artist has so ingeniously conceived of time for a media-savvy, 21st-century audience than Christian Marclay in his enthralling art film, The Clock, now on view through the summer at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).
Enter a darkened room on the ground floor of LACMA’s Art of the America’s building, and an attendant ushers you into the gallery with a flashlight. There you find a seat on one of several white couches placed before a large screen where The Clock is ticking away.
The Clock is a twenty-four-hour montage constructed from thousands of moments in cinema and television history, all depicting the passage of time. Each clip—be it a recognizable film moment (we spotted Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman in Rain Main) or a scene from an obscure television show—includes a shot featuring some type of clock, watch, or reference to time. Marclay painstakingly edited these moments together to create a functioning timepiece synchronized to the local time wherever it is viewed—marking the exact real time for the viewer for twenty-four consecutive hours. You will be hard pressed to refrain from checking your own watch or phone once or twice to confirm what you see on the screen: a melding of video and reality that serves as an accurate time piece and a quirky compendium of film history.
From science fiction to slapstick, thrillers to rom-coms, they are all here. Depending on your hour of arrival, kids might luck into catching a glimpse of favorite scenes from The Wizard of Oz, Back to the Future, Babe, Titanic or Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, to name just a few. Parents, please note that there is a wide variety of visual material here, and a few scenes contain brief nudity and strong language.
With the help of his London gallery, White Cube, Marclay embarked on this daring video collage in 2007. Six assistants were hired for an initial six-month research phase to watch DVDs and note any scene that showed a clock or alluded to time. At the end of this period, Marclay had sufficient confidence that his clock could become a reality, and the project continued for about three years. In all, some ten thousand clips were collected for the project.
But the magic and artistry of The Clock lies beyond the sheer volume of work and cleverness of the time angle. Marclay’s expert and insightful editing brings emotional heft to the project. Some scenes are coveted for their cinematic scope and visual interest. Others—like a clip from the Western masterpiece High Noon that pops up at, you guessed it, noon—appear as nods to their iconic cultural status. Leitmotifs are sprinkled throughout the film; we once viewed it around 12:30 pm during which many of the on-screen characters were having lunch, or talking about having lunch. Similarly, some actors appear over and over but in different roles, as does the celebrity clock tower from London’s Palace of Westminster that we know as Big Ben. Yet a standard narrative never emerges, so the experience is something like sitting at the beach, happily mesmerized by wave after wave that never quite reach the shore. And that’s not a bad way to pass some time.
LACMA is open Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday: 11 am–5 pm; Friday: 11 am–8 pm; Saturday and Sunday: 10 am–7 pm; and closed Wednesday. Admission is $15 for adults, $10 for seniors and students, and free for children 17 and under, members, and active-duty military personnel and their families. LA County residents receive free admission after 3 pm every weekday LACMA is open!
Presently The Clock is screening during regular museum hours only. But two full 24-hour screenings will be held on Saturday, July 25th and Saturday, August 8th, which should be especially fun for film and television buffs who are wondering what clips could possible be found to represent 4:13 am! These special 24-hour screenings are first come/first served, free, and open to the public, but general admission tickets are required during regular museum hours. Space is limited and there may be extensive waiting times.
LACMA/ 905 Wilshire Blvd /Los Angeles CA 90036 // 323/857-6000
Written by Stacey Ravel Abarbanel