The line might be three people long or thirty. On a ninety-degree afternoon, we waited 45 minutes for second-row seats.
"It's a film made up of clips from other movies," the line attendant told us. "Every clip has a clock, or refers to time, or implies time, and every clip happens at the same moment as the time it is outside. If you look at your watch and it says 2:15, a clip that takes place at 2:15 will be up on the screen. It's connected to a computer program to make sure that the film's always synchronized with the real-world time."
Just before 5:00pm, Steve Martin pantomimed to his business partner that he had to leave for a 6:00 flight. At six, we saw him make it to the gate only to find the flight delayed. What Steve Martin was doing for that hour in between, as we watched clips from the 1960 version of The Time Machineas well as Casablanca and others—well, it’s not hard to guess.
We couldn’t believe how much happened on the screen in ten minutes. How many people sighed, how many people answered phones, how many people watched clocks ticking.
I meant to stay for an hour. The people in the couch next to mine got up and left. A woman sat down there and soon moved to the far end of her couch—a comfortably retired actress, I realized. Was she waiting for her cameo?
I am a product of the eighties. I recognized the clips from The Matrix andNapoleon Dynamite. If there was any Orson Welles, it was lost on me. I nodded at a two-second clip from Sixteen Candles and a fifteen-second clip from Adventures in Babysitting. My parents are products of the fifties, as well as the decades after. Would they have been even more enthralled than I was?
“Marclay manages to deliver connections at once so lovely and so unlikely that you can’t really see how they were managed: you have to chalk it up to blessed serendipity. Guns in one film meet guns in another, and kisses, kisses; drivers in color wave through drivers in black-and-white so they might overtake them.”
—Zadie Smith, “Killing Orson Welles at Midnight”
The difference between good editing and great editing is a matter of discipline. Of course there are "good enough" transitions, but insisting on the perfect juxtaposition, just like le mot juste, makes a world of difference when attempted on such a massive scale. There is suspense embedded in the film clips, but Marclay's prowess is evident in the perpetual suspense of the cuts between them.
“At Marclay’s request, White Cube posted a 'Help Wanted' sign at Today is Boring, a cinéaste redoubt on Kingsland Road. Six young people were hired to watch DVDs and rip digital copies of any scene showing a clock or alluding to the time . . . At first, he was merely collecting scattered files, but eventually he had enough to forge 'hinges' between them. The more hinges he came up with, the more inventive they got.”
—Daniel Zalewski, “The Hours”
People punch the clock, hit the alarm clock, wind up the grandfather clock, open their pocket watch, move the minute hand forward and forward and forward. Robert Redford hits a baseball through a clock—although, in The Clock, the shards don’t fall in slow motion. It all happens in real time.
“There was not actually such a thing as a second [in the film L'Avventurawhen a twentysomething Geoff Dyer saw it in Paris] . . . A minute was the minimum increment of temporal measurement. Every second lasted a minute, every minute lasted an hour, an hour a year, and so on. Trade time for a bigger unit of time. When I finally emerged into the Parisian twilight I was in my early thirties.”
—Geoff Dyer, Zona
I emerged into the New York twilight three hours after entering, having walked past sleeping hipsters and snacking gallerinas toward the fading sunlight. I took the bus back to my apartment, and saw a row of clocksalong Fifty-Seventh Street, each one set to a different time zone. In my head, I could still hear the ticking.
image credit: flickr.com/billindc