For some of you, this may be a surprise as I have sent out a SCREED in almost a year...for many others, a surprise as I haven't sent out an e-mail blast in much longer (since my previous computer died...) Now I've painstakingly reassembled a lifetime of e-mail addresses...so if you get multiple copies of this message, blame yourself! Settle down!
I wanted to share a movie with you, a very mundane thing, but one that shot me with such a thrill I've felt compelled to write to you all in the ether once again. I'm thinking of "The Clock" by Christian Marclay, which recently showed at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, after a visit to New York City and London. I'd call this a "high concept montage"...the artist cut together a 24 hour film (video?) using clips from thousands of other films, most of which either had a clock in the background, or filling the screen, or having someone announce what time it is, and at every point the time exactly matches the current time in the theatre, sometimes to the second.
It sounds silly at first, but the idea grew on me rapidly. First of all, I am a movie buff even more than an art buff, so just the challenge of identifying the movies the guy used and judging the breadth of his own taste was attractive. I was also drawn in by the idea that the film would start at 11 AM and continue until 11 AM the following morning, opening up the possibility of going out for dinner and cocktails, catching a few hours, a few more drinks, a puff of something, and maybe even popping in at 4 AM to see what's alive around Wilshire and Fairfax at that hour.
I met a friend who works at LACMA and we went in around 8.45 PM. One odd effect of this film is that there was never any doubt about the time; if you had to leave at 10, you could time your departure to the minute. We stayed, in my first stretch, until 9.20, then went over to a neighboring building to a reception. We had to get drunk for the next stretch; I was committed to see midnight.
I realized two things during this half-hour: first, the guy had a very broad knowledge of movies, tending towards postwar American and British films up through the present, a slight emphasis on the '80s and early '90s, and a smattering of more recent French and German films, with a few classics of the silent era and the Golden Age thrown in. I am not arrogant enough to claim I knew even half the clips, but I'll say I recognized more than most of the kids there, and certainly knew more of the actors.
The second thing I realized was far more important: this film was no gimmick, not merely a bunch of clock faces cut together in rhythm, like some MTV music video from the cable era. This work was painstaking and brilliant, with sound from the overlapping scenes being used to strongly tie the montage together, and more than just clock and people glancing at watches, there were many short clips with no visible reference to time, two-shots, themes, everything forming a cognitive whole. This fucking madman took a gimmick and made a 24-hour movie out of it. It was absolutely riveting, and not just because nearly every minute found a visual reference in a clock (especially a digital clock turning over to the next minute...), which in itself is not boring at all...in fact it is extremely tense, and a tension that finds no release, like some Wagnerian motif twirling and spinning ever higher without a climax. Just a half-hour lit me up like a fuse.
We got drunk and raved about the experience with some other people, a few who'd just shown up and a few who'd been there all day, and were committed to seeing a least portions until the "end" at 11 the following morning. I had to work the next day, but I decided to push it as far as I dared. We went back in at 11.20.
I extended this final stretch until 1.35 AM, when I conceded that someone could easily sit through the entire film, running for the john and maybe some stimulants, without napping or even getting comfortable. I reached a few conclusions that didn't increase my intimacy with the CINEMA, but certainly cemented the bond in a way that most people, except those who've sat through "Berlin Alexanderplatz" in one sitting (hand up) or goddess forbid, "The Sargasso Manuscript" (hand up), or perhaps a film editor will appreciate. I experienced the rhythm of film on a new level.
The film taught me something about the device of showing a clock at all in a film; it usually appears as an anchor or a device, so this was a long, long chain of such anchors, driving the tension ever higher. It taught me something, through repetition, of our relationship to time, the constant monitoring of it, our enslavement to time. The intensity of certain moments signaled an arbitrary relationship to time; there were, obviously, more clips around the top an hour than either quarter or the half-hour, and hardly any for the intervening minutes (except the build-up to midnight, which began in earnest after 11.30)...yet the filmmaker's depth of appropriation found a reference for nearly every minute of every hour; the longest stretch I noticed without a clock was three or four minutes between 1.05 and 1.10.
Midnight, which I'd waited for, was something of a disappointment; so much of midnight in film was merely SHOWING the clock, and there was for that minute a very fast montage of at least a dozen films, with a bit too much Big Ben for my taste; but this was the statement. I didn't get the clip of " À Meia-Noite Levarei Sua Alma" ("At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul") I'd been waiting for, but I didn't see any Brasilian films, come to think of it. Even 24 hours is a limitation in the vast body of film. But the disappointment wasn't much (indeed, the few minutes after midnight were a great release, as in most films this shows some great disaster averted, just as I was told had happened around noon.) By then the specific minute meant little. On a deeper level, "The Clock" tuned me into the great unconscious humanity of the cinema. One profound result of tying together thousands of films to a diurnal cycle was a psychological "average", if you wish, of what people are doing at any particular minute of the day. My first half-hour had been full of people finishing dinner, going out, preparing themselves, moving inside; the two hours around midnight were full of fucking, drunken partying, but most interesting, full of insomnia and normal people going to bed, moonshadows on the wall, and then the lapse around one AM, building slowly to the tension of two. I am sorry I couldn't stay until dawn, because I know some of my favorite movies (just like my favorite experiences in life) filled the gap between two AM and the sunrise; I can only imagined the bleary-eyed self abuse littering the screen around 4, and not as much sex as you'd guess; the clock is not foremost in those scenes, but scenes of stress and minute-counting...which is, of course, what the entire 24 hour film was an homage to: minute counting. And it was a delight to join in, if only for a few hours.
On the deepest level, "The Clock" was a lovely tribute to one of my favorite activities: going out to see a movie. Somewhat to my surprise, the theatre was packed, people drifted out to have meals, get cocktails, grab a smoke, but always came back for another hour or two, or just a few minutes; but there was no question that we were sharing that experience. There was none of the usual crowd, where some come to fawn and some come to trash the film; we were all united in a unique and pure cinematic experience, a dark, warm room under the full moon and next to the Tar Pits, laughing, drunk, shouting out the names of dead actors, riveted to pure mainline rush of filmic tension.
If you have the opportunity, take a few days off, brew some coffee, and jump in.
Here are some articles for you to further enjoy:
Original article from the Huffington Post:
Los Angeles Times:
And the Huffington Post again:
Please let me know how you all are doing...time is of the essence! Many smiles,
19 May 2011