Time will tell (you something you did not expect)

Francesca Rigg 19 November 2018

I check my wrist for the time as, once again, I count the number of people who stand before me in the queue. It trails aimlessly, making arrival at the final destination seem that much more desirable. I had hoped to catch the 11:30 to 12:30 slot, as I had watched from 12:30 to 14:00 the day before. Just as I was thinking I might not get the full hour in that I had planned, a large group come traipsing out from within. ‘I couldn’t have sat in there much longer’, one of them remarks, ‘I was so aware of each minute that passed.’ The queue in front of me shuffles through the doorway and I manage to take a seat in the crowded cinema at 11:28 with a sigh of relief.

‘The Clock’ by Christian Marclay is a 24-hour long ‘installation’ comprised of thousands of clips from film and television that represent – whether in physical form or through speech or action – the concept of time. By collating clips from films of various genres, languages and time periods, Marclay presents an intricate portrayal of the human day, shown in parallel with real time. As the viewer sits, watching the minutes go by, the film does the same, telling true time through endless images of clocks.

By scouring through film archives – thrillers, science fiction, comedies and westerns – Marclay succeeds in finding clips to represent each minute of our 24-hour day. A woman checking her watch; a man hanging off the minute hand of Big Ben; a discrete grandfather clock in the corner of a room; the time shown in the bottom right-hand corner of a CCTV footage screen. As you sit watching characters exclaim they’re ‘late for an appointment’, whilst also being acutely aware of the people who come and go from their seats around you, the human concept of time is made alarmingly stark.

The presence of clocks in every scene could sound like a rather crude way of cutting together film footage. Marclay, however, manages to produce an installation that is refined and witty. The concept of time is simply the starting point for his gathering of clips. The way he so successfully match-cuts allows the viewer to be taken from American suburbia to 1920s Paris, to a space shuttle, without realising the three films they have just encountered span several decades, languages and geographical locations. The lack of storyline does little to detract from the enjoyment of the film. Instead, it serves to benefit the passer-by who, with little time to spare, only has 20 minutes before they must be elsewhere.

Unlike the woman who had felt uncomfortable with her heightened awareness of time passing, I found it an important issue to confront. ‘Try to imagine a world without timekeeping. You probably can’t.’ says Mitch Alborn in his novel ‘The Time Keeper’. And he’s right, I think. There is no issue with the concept of time. But there is an issue with the increasing pace at which we are all experiencing life. Technology has contributed to the production of a society that values immediacy and efficiency. All else is secondary, even at the expense of quality, creativity, and individuality. Marclay’s film recognises this increasing need for speed. By ‘forcing’ viewers to sit and watch the minutes go by, he tests our ability to overcome the human fear of time running out.

Having only discovered The Clock a couple of days before returning to Cambridge, I eagerly anticipate returning to London at Christmas and allowing Marclay to steal more hours from my day.

The Clock is being shown at the Tate Modern until 12th January. A number of 24-hour screenings are being shown on 6th October.