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The Time of our lives at the movies



The Clock – Christian Marclay – White Cube Gallery London

Not a movie but deeply cinematic. This Art installation at the White Cube Gallery, Mason’s Yard is a must for anyone interested in cinema. But be warned it is onnly on until 13th November

Californian Christian Marclay has taken clips from thousands of commercial films from the Silent era to the present day and edited them together brilliantly to create a hypnotic, absorbing 24 hour film which examines the relationship between time and narrative; narrative and dramatic effect.

Using the visual image of the clock and references within films to specific times, Marclays fascinating work parallels real time throughout so that at any moment, the time shown on screen coincides with the time at which you watch it. The film itself acts as a kind of clock in that it constantly uses fictional time to coincide with real time. Which of course, among other things sparks thoughts about the reality of time itself. Plus you wont miss your train!

The essence of dramatic effect is irreducibly linked to time: anticipation, expectation, hope, looking forward; regret, remorse, historical perspective etc philosophically require a sense of the measured passage of time to render them meaningful. Time is part of the warp and weft of memory: without the linear conceptual thread that time provides, the perpetual present of our immediate experience and the endless flow of events and experiences that constitute it have neither sequence nor coherent connection. Language itself is irreducibly temporal. Time we might say is part of the grammar of sense. And memory.

Marclays piece does not present these ideas and speculations, it provokes them. The experience of juxtaposed fictional time and real time is slightly disorientating but I found it both amusing, absorbing and oddly satisfying.

If time provides the link between our experiences to render them coherent, meaningful to us; it appears to be a profoundly human instinct to then thread the beads of experience onto the string of time to create a form which is based upon selection and choice to create a narrative, a story, fictional or real. Most arts exploit the narrative form: none more so than those based upon the written word; literature, drama, cinema etc etc. Even in real life journalists primarily seek not the facts but the story: then only secondarily the selected or edited facts that tell, illuminate or illustrate that story. Most of us are even drawn to make sense of our lives and especially the lives of others, by seeing them as the unfolding of a special kind of narrative that links, connects and adds meaning to the disparate events that make them up.

Marclay is therefore touching on something deep within us that equally lies at the very heart of the cinematic material he utilises. The Clock is first and foremost a technical tour de force. The selection is an astonishing achievement of perseverance and commitment: that said the use he makes of the material thus selected is stunning. His editing is assured, perfectly judged and full of perceptiveness, wit and style. We see characters in one film, one narrative, one story, tensely awaiting an event presaged by a ticking clock or a clicking digital display, only to cut to the dramatic response to a similarly suspenseful moment from a totally different character inhabiting a totally different narrative in a different fictional world. Thus the real temporal sequence is preserved suggesting a continuing link between the fictional events depicted but which are in fact narratively utterly disconnected.

Like any interesting work of art, responses to The Clock will vary. So what? Some will say. Even if the more philosophical sub-text leaves you cold if you love movies and have seen plenty of them, it is great fun trying to remember the hundreds of source films, actors and actresses. I also found it really hard to leave, you just want to see the next familiar favourite, old friend, or new clip.

Ever since Kubriks The Killing cinema-goers have comfortably embraced the concept of time fractured narratives: and novelists have used long used the technique. Films like High Noon have also played with paralleling narrative time with elapsed time. What Marclay has done is simply to take this process to the ultimate and in the process made us realise that the unremarked dependence of the normality and certainty our lives upon measured time, deserves to be noticed and contemplated. Time not so much the boat we use to cross the river to where we want to go: more the flowing river itself, always there, always flowing, but different every time we splash and play in it.

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