The Clock, Christian Marclay's masterful 24-hour film montage, is now running at MoMA. And if this month-long showing is anything like the art installation's cameo at last summer's Lincoln Center Festival, you can expect some serious queue time (we spent three hours on line late on a Saturday night in July). So is The Clock worth the wait? Yes.
Marclay's piece, which features thousands of movie clips featuring watches, clocks, transitions and other indications of the hour strung together in real time, is a fascinating metaphysical take on the passage and documentation of time both in cinema and reality. Marclay, an American-born, Swiss-raised artist who splits his time between London and New York, spent several years sifting through films from the past century, painstakingly stitching them into one subtle narrative. "Cinema is very much about forgetting time," Marclay said at a MoMA press preview on Thursday. "Time in cinema is stretched and compressed, and it's never truthful, in a way."
Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York, and White Cube, London. Photo: Todd-White Photography.
But time in The Clock is the one thing that's never manipulated, and viewers watch the minutes tick by onscreen in sync with their own watches and cell phone clocks, all while snapshots and sounds of film plots fly by. Marty McFly, Scarlett O'Hara, Gordon Gekko and Sam Spade stream into one another, reminding viewers it's 11:26, 11:27, 11:28. Doors open from one film into another, from black and white to color, from French noir to Clueless, from horror scream to action thriller soundtrack.
The Clock is designed so viewers can come in and leave at will, so you can soak up anywhere from twenty minutes to twenty-four hours of the film, if you so choose. It's difficult to decide when to leave because, just as watching a clock is mind-numbing and tedious, it's also hypnotic. Marclay keeps a clip running just long enough for you to recognize what film it hails from, or, at the very least, which star is onscreen, then moves onto the next one before you have time to settle into the scene.
The clips can be banal—someone pouring tea, eating a sandwich or stretching in bed—or they can be pivotal; either way you are constantly aware of how long you've been sitting in the theater, the exact time of day, the exact minute John Mclain hopped on a subway in Die Hard: With a Vengeance. And rather than remove you from reality for two hours or so, which is typically the goal of film, The Clock mires you in it, making it impossible to ignore or overlook seconds, minutes and hours as they move past, and you feel compelled to see how much longer you can stick it out.
The Clock will be shown at MoMA's Contemporary Galleries through January 21, and runs continuously on three weekends (Jan 4-6, 11-13 and 18-20), in addition to running a full 24 hours on New Year's Eve. There's no need to return time and time again to catch the clips in full—MoMA's admission price is still a super-hefty $25. But if you can brave a few hours wait (responsibly!) it's well worth it, if just to feel the full weight of a cinematic minute.