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The line to see “The Clock” at Lincoln Center (photo by the author for Hyperallergic, click to enlarge)

Last week, I trekked up to Lincoln Center to see part of “The Clock,” Christian Marclay’s film collage that has had the art world’s knickers in a twist for about a year and a half now. If you’ve somehow missed it, the film splices together 24 hours’ worth of moments from movies involving clocks, watches and time, which would be sort of gimmicky if not for the actual amazing part: the film is 24 hours, and the clocks in the movies are chronologically aligned to every minute of the day. Watching “The Clock,” you’re watching a film collage unfold in real time.

When I arrived at Lincoln Center, the line to get in didn’t look too long, until I remembered that once inside, viewers can stay as long as they like, meaning even a relatively short line moves slowly. I waited for an easy hour, during which time some Lincoln Center staff brought us much-appreciated little cups of iced tea. And at least it wasn’t like that time when I tried to go see “The Clock” at Paula Cooper Gallery in February 2011, and it was snowy and freezing and the wind was blowing into the Chelsea streets off the Hudson River, and I promptly gave up.

This time, I made it inside. I was only able to stay for two hours — from 1:45 to 3:45 pm — and consequently my exposure to The Clock was quite limited. Still, I learned some very important things, and I thought it would be worthwhile to share them here:

1. Christian Marclay likes American movies. He can’t really be faulted for this, since his mother is American (his father is Swiss) and, despite being raised in Geneva, he was an art student in the US in the late 1970s and has lived and worked in New York for a long time now. Plus a lot of people like American movies. This point may seem dumb, but I promise it’s relevant because …

2. Holy crap, American movies are white! And I mean “white” as in the race. As in, every time a person of color appeared on screen, it was a notable event. I would think, “Look, a person of color!” And that happened, like, not a lot of times. A good number of those times, the person was Denzel Washington in The Taking of Pelham 123.

3. Nicolas Cage and Robert De Niro might have more screen time in the two hours I saw of The Clock than in the movies they actually star in. I don’t know; I can’t prove this for sure, at least not yet. But this topic is ripe for a Film Studies dissertation. Go.

3a. There’s also a disproportionate amount of Haley Joel Osment. What ever happened to him? (Oh dear. He is a mostly vegetarian, and he was much, much cuter when he was young.)

4. Back to that whole underrepresentation thing: where are all the women?! Ok, the women are physically there, but they’re, like, never doing anything. Aside from staring longingly and tearfully at someone (or into space, even) or serving a man food or drink. Women are not active, useful characters who talk much, at least not between the hours of 1:45 and 3:45 pm.

5. Part of the reason people love The Clock is because it feeds into all our notions of cultural capital. And by that I mean: you will always feel awesome when you recognize a clip taken out of context. You will pat yourself on the back and laugh a little louder, just to make sure everyone else knows that you know. Someone could turn The Clock into a mean game of pub trivia.

5a. There are so many movies I haven’t seen.

6. Talking and thinking about, constantly referring to or noticing the time can actually be a way to pass the time. I realize this sounds mind-numblingly obvious, but it’s actually the most amazing thing I learned from my Clock experience. Time will always be passed, it will keep moving, and it can even be entertaining and fun to watch it move. The Clock was probably the first time I’ve watched time gone by and not felt anxious, compulsive or impatient. For that alone, I count it as a fairly incredible achievement.

I should add that there’s one very important thing I did not learn from watching two afternoon hours of The Clock: what the hell happens to those poor people John Travolta is holding hostage in The Taking of Pelham 123. Time passed, suddenly it was 3:13 pm, he was all angry and villain-like … and I have no idea if they made it out alive.

Also, I’m now reconsidering my decision to not wear a watch.

The Clock is playing in the David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center (61 West 62nd Street, but line up on Broadway, Upper West Side, Manhattan) through August 1. 

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Jillian Steinhauer

Jillian Steinhauer is a former senior editor of Hyperallergic. She writes largely about the intersection of art...

2 replies on “Six Things I Learned — and One I Didn’t — from Christian Marclay’s “The Clock””

  1. Well Jillian, films mirror the times in which they were created. And most of the 20th century was pretty awful when it comes to these issues. It is good that you are talking about the racist and man-centric stories playing out in the footage. There are so many nuances to unpack here.
    One other point that I found watching the clock is how much it gets you to think about that particular time of the day, and the typical activities during that time. Lots of people get woken up in the wee hours. Lots of people sitting around a socializing in the evening hours. So there is a cool angle about the philosophy of time.

    1. Yes, Danny, I thought about that a lot. I really wanted to go back over the weekend at a completely different time of day, to experience 1 to 2 am or something, but unfortunately, I couldn’t make it.

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