Monday, March 19, 2012

Observations: Christian Marclay's The Clock



For the uninitiated, The Clock is a video installation by Christian Marclay, a 24-hour montage of scenes involving clocks, timepieces or any cinematic allusion to clocks, selected from film and television footage from all over the world. In that it exudes with immense possibilities to resonate across cultures, spaces and "times", it becomes an instant masterpiece.  Rather than being a mere video installation, the film becomes a pure cinematic organism, a clock that goes on without having to be wound up; a feature that has been used at various art galleries where the film was exhibited, where it plays in sync with the local time. It reflects upon the possibility of a hyper real collective imagination where time exists completely free from spatial intervention and connected only by the inevitable changes in time itself. It also allows the audience to exert/assert her own identity onto the film, in that one can anticipate familiar incidents from one's film viewing career which involved any allusion to time: be it about the Hitchcockian "time-bomb" or the famous shot of Buster Keaton hanging from the clock... 

Peter Bradshaw in his article for the Guardian points out how
The Czech writer Petr Kr├íl, in the essay entitled "Time Flies" (collected in Gilbert Adair's excellent 1999 anthology Movies) describes watching with a companion the 1916 silent movie serial Judex by Louis Feuillade. He recalls: "Suddenly on the screen there appears a clock set in the centre of the kind of sumptuous salon that epoch, and Feuillade, alone had a taste for; it shows 4:40pm. One of us automatically consults his watch: 4:40 to the second. For an instant our present, across the ruins of several decades, has rejoined that of an afternoon in the 1910s." The pleasure of making this connection, infinitely repeated, is at first a conscious, then a subconscious or unconscious pleasure in The Clock. 
One wonders whether Marclay uses that segment from Judex for his 4:40 segment.

Watching the 24-hour film in its complete running time seems a daunting task and while I completely agree with the critics who have said that one has to seep into the immense temporality of the film in order to experience it's true power, the few minutes that I was able to see had a profound impact on me; and an extrapolation of this very impact exerts the film to be a masterpiece. I saw 4 minutes of the film, from 12:04 PM to 12:08 Pm. We see, in these four minutes, various known and unknown clips from across the world, which include a corporate meeting, Colin Firth talking, Richard Gere getting up at noon in a reflection of the erratic lives some of us may have,a royal family resting in the English countryside, a scene from what seemed like Darkness in Tallinn, and Gary Cooper in High Noon.
The staggering variety of spaces that we travel across in these few minutes, along with the fact that the on-screen time matches with the real time in which we see the film(the clip that i saw can be found here; it comes with a welcome note to watch the film in sync with the screen time) transcends the viewer-image relation and asserts the possibility of a postmodern identity bound only by cinematic time; an assertion that feels wonderful in its own terms.

The only thing that was a little unnerving for me was that most of the clips were taken from English films or television show and this irked my post-colonial identity. This might very well not be the case with the rest of the film,which could be giving an equal weightage to scenes from various countries, but  I wouldn't know about that.Even if that is true, the postmodern aesthetic of the film welcomes multiplicity of opinions and this is something that I felt. I was reminded of the wonderful dialogue from Wenders' Kings of the Road, "the yanks have colonized our sub-conscious"; could it be that the English-nations, with their elaborate representation of time, have colonized our assertive screen identities? Such unsettling stuff, masterpieces are made of...

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