WHAT: After five visits and a total of 10 1/4 of its 24 hours logged over the past two months, I'm still not sure what exactly I think of The Clock, but feel like I'm starting to finally get a sense of what makes it tick- and what doesn't. I haven't spied any more clips of documentary or animation (including any such special effects- clips from CGI-dependent films used scenes that weren't.) after ten hours than I had after two, unless you count shots of televisions showing newscasts or Simpsons episodes being watched by fictional characters. I also haven't noticed any shots of timepieces in space, and none from sword-and-sandal movies or medieval fantasy either, though the appearance of a sundial (in a clip from this movie, I think) had me wondering why not. There's something too-clever-by-half about the construction of this artwork, and I can't help but wonder if it would be at all compelling if it weren't for its monumental scale. But I keep coming back to it, perhaps because I want to figure out why I was so moved by Marclay's inclusion of one particular clip: the opening scene of a movie I haven't seen in which a teacher asks a classroom of children for ideas of things to put inside a time capsule.
My friend Miriam Montag has seen more than I have, and has written an impression of what it's like for a cinephile to attend this exhibit.
Christian Marclay’s 24-hour behemoth video installation The Clock is, as a complete work, is loaded with the tension of letting go and hanging on. It gives and it takes away, and the net effect of the whole process might not seem clear at first.
From the outset, while there may be enough hours in the day, a wait is involved. Even those who enjoy a swami-like freedom from bodily functions will likely require multiple visits, with the accompanying waiting time in most cases, to see the whole blasted thing. The wait, about two hours usually and thoroughly expected by most attendees, acts as a bizarre vacation from time. Once the art-lover has committed a chunk of time to The Clock and its related wait, this time has a deliciousness to it that a holiday Monday can’t quite match. One has let go of the idea that there isn’t enough time. Books will be read, email inboxes will be cleaned out, old friends caught up with, alliances formed, the names and menus of eateries in Madrid divulged.
What must be left go of is a lot harder to quantify, particularly for the cineaste’s often neurotic needs. It will be worth it.
Upon entering the exhibition, it is clear that a lot more than the satisfactions and disappointments of narrative of will be sacrificed. As a video installation, the beauty and vagaries of film were not to be expected, of course. Seamlessness required a uniformity of screen format. Cropped widescreen, such as Tonino Delli Colli’s compositions for Sergio Leone, and partially scalped shots from The Twilight Zone both bow to this directive. For Academy ratio films blown up from poor VHS copies, the distortions took on a poignant cast that they would not have for a full viewing. A decades' worth of image quality discernment, out the window! Film-going bugaboo number one and two hit the gray carpet with nary a thud.
For those who log a few minutes on imdb.com playing “Where Have I Seen That School Marm Before?” or have some sort of similar post-viewing compulsion, The Clock says “Eat my dust!”. Attempts to jot down details of unfamiliar clips to figure out what the devil they are just will just be a mocking reminder after the fact. “Jess Walter/ W. Beatty b/w”? Why? Really, why? If the title of the film where Jerome Cowan and Edward Everett Horton sing about champagne is worth looking into, the question will come to mind after the viewer has showered, napped and eaten a proper meal. Impulses toward all consuming knowledge will need to settle to the bottom of the sensible viewer’s brain pan or tragedy is in the cards.
A somewhat fussy baby might burble and sightlines might not be all one wishes, but the annoyances of a typical night at the local Bijou melt away in submersive experience of this singular work, only to be replaced by nuttier ones. People who check their light up watches for the time are just a source of bemusement.
Note taking? You want to account for as many minutes of Marclay’s day as you can? The more rabid the film-goer, the closer this approaches to Death Match territory. If a seat in the eyeline of the unseasoned viewer is occupied by one “getting” more titles, it is tempting to just write any old crap down just to look worldly. Let it go, that guy wasn’t making any notes during To Sir With Love, and the theme was playing in the clip as Sidney Potier ironed is shirt, so who cares what he thinks? He’s never heard of Abram Room, see any version of OUT and probably thinks Judy Geeson is Lulu. He and his superior knowledge of teen films of the 90s can go to hell! At this point, dear viewer, please consider going home.
What’s holding us? The nagging suspicion that the longer the session, the deeper the experience of the work. The clock as a time compression device in films is turned on its head most violently here. It’s apparent that a certain moody teen being relieved from the “You’ll sit here till you eat that dinner, Missy!” treatment is sweeter for the folks, who hours before, saw the punishment being meted out. They’re glad they stayed and how would they have known of this pay off otherwise? The tedium of being booked by the cops is brought home by its reappearance, hours later with a different time on the clock and you were THERE. Yes, Travis and Betsy are going for coffee during her next break at 4 pm . . . but will The Clock be there? Will there be a dead general at dawn? What time of day does napalm smell best? Some chimes, oh say, about 12 AM?
Is it rational to risk one’s health and well-being just because one is dissatisfied by the only clip of Michael Caine screened during your puny 4 hour stretch? Yes, it is. This is where the tenacity and endurance only a veteran of Jacques Rivette retrospectives can claim comes in, and god dammit, it is a proud and untamable madness! It’s morning and Harry Palmer will soon be waking to one very annoying alarm clock. So stay. You’ll never come back to fill in the upcoming 3 hour gap, so stay. You can’t believe there’s no Godard, so stay. It will never return, not really, so stay. It seems like you’ve just had a second (third, fourth) wind so stay. Stay, stay, stay.WHERE/WHEN: Screens 24 hours a day at SFMOMA until June 2, after which the museum closes for an extensive remodel. But it's only available to view during the museum's open hours, which are 11 AM-5:45 PM today, 10 AM-9:45 PM Thursday, 10 AM to 5:45 PM Friday, and a final 31 hour blow-out starting 10 AM Saturday until 5:45 PM Sunday.
WHY: I don't know if Miriam's correct about her prediction, "It will never return" but why risk it? If you have some time to devote to this piece before it disappears, you really ought to try it, if only to see for yourself what this thing really is. I predict that every half-hour spent waiting in line outside the museum before it opens will save you at least an hour wait time in the museum if you arrive during its open hours.
HOW: Projected video installation.