Watching on borrowed time: Christian Marclay’s The Clock

Ivan checks out artist and composer Christian Marclay’s latest work, The Clock, and finds a hypnotic love letter to the movies…

As the old saying goes, there’s nothing like looking at a clock for twenty-four hours. If it isn’t a saying already, it soon will be, because Christian Marclay’s incredible video piece, The Clock, is showing in London at the Hayward Gallery.

A montage of movie timepieces, The Clock is a bizarrely hypnotic ode to cinema and time, which impresses just by its sheer scale. Fitting together over 3,000 films, it’s spectacular but simple in its concept. You watch time pass on the big screen while it flies by in the real world. It makes Channel 4’s Countdown look like child’s play.

Most impressive of all? It functions as a fully working clock.

So, at 7pm, you witness Daniel Craig and Eva Green getting ready for evening poker in Casino Royale and then Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman dressing up for a night out on the Kubrickian town. Thematically, it’s connected not just by pictures of clocksm but also by characters’ actions at certain hours of the day.

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Yes, at 11.45am Robert Powell is hanging on to Big Ben for dear life and lightning strikes Back To The Future at 10.04pm, but at 4.21pm you can observe Clint Eastwood’s shootout in For a Few Dollars More, cleverly spliced together with the afternoon duel from The Man With The Golden Gun.

11.07pm, one viewer noted, is a very popular time for murder, while dreams take place in their natural 5am slot,a reward for those brave enough to stay up overnight, or for those unable to tear their eyes away.

Nicolas Cage, on the other hand, appears at all times of the day. He may be the most prolific man across the twenty-four hours, rivalled only by James Bond and, it seems, Michael Douglas in the deadline-powered Don’t Say A Word.

Marclay’s editing is as skilful as it gets. An artist who specialises in remixing previous works, he blends the audio smoothly across each clip. Diegetic music escapes from its context, at one point flowing over the films that follow a brief shot of a gramophone, a device that is especially rewarding when it drowns out Eyes Wide Shut. He returns us to scenes, too, embellishing each mini-narrative before sweeping on to the next. It’s as if these thousands of stories are all happening at the same time, but in different places around the world.

The result means that you can walk out at 7.30pm one day and return at 3pm the next and still follow Liam Neeson’s character in Chloe. Okay, you may not want to spend much time with Atom Egoyan’s steamy nonsense, but the effect is staggering, nonetheless. You certainly won’t want to stop watching it in a hurry.

Impressive technical achievements aside, The Clock is something that renews your appreciation of cinema, and the use of time within it. By synchronising art and life, Marclay expands screen-time from its uncompressed form. Both now unfold in real-time, each as transitory as the other.

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You can’t rewind a film in the cinema. it steals seconds from you every week and once a minute has tocked, it can’t be reclaimed.

Relentless and beautiful, Marclay’s Clock is as philosophical as it is a love letter to film. If you are going to lose an hour of your day, there is nothing more deserving than this chronological stream of cinema. Not least because, for the first time, you’ll start wondering, “What does 007 do at 10.37pm?”

Christian Marclay’s The Clock is showing daily at British Art Show 7 in the Southbank Centre until Sunday 17th April.

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