Saturday, January 5, 2013

Clocking More Hours: Midnight Strikes

"Naturally everyone wants to see midnight." 

So said Zadie Smith in her NYRB review of Christian Marclay's video installation, The Clock, way back in 2010 when it appeared at galleries in London and New York before going more mainstream at the Lincoln Center Festival this past summer, and now in the collection at The Museum of Modern Art.

And she's right. I did, and so did InReviewOnline editor in chief Kenji Fujishima, who was my clock buddy over the summer for the morning hours (which I wrote about below), when I saw from 8:00 am to noon. He had returned several other times to see more of the 24 hours, but not the all-important midnight. So we went on Friday the 4, the first of the MOMA's overnights, to fill the gap.

Starting at 9:30 pm
An extended sequence from the end of Laura, interspersed between many other clips of course. Every frame sizzles.

Lots and lots of French speaking films, I did not recognize.
Lots of Roger Moore, as Bond and other roles.
John Wayne leading a charge in one in Ford's calvary trilogy.
Columbo "I didn't realize how late it was."
Denzel a couple of times, one was Out of Time of course.
Clark Gable & Norma Shearer in Idiot's Delight (though not the famous "Puttin' on the Ritz" dancing scene).

11:00 pm  Miller's Crossing, Leo O'Bannon listening to Frank Patterson singing Danny Boy

The Run-Up to Midnight
From Smiths review again: “ 'Why does it always happen at midnight?' asks a young man by a fireplace, underneath a carriage clock. 'Because it does!' replies his friend.' "

Interesting that she doesn't identify the film. That happens a lot. Some actors and scene look so familiar, but you can't "name that film."

11:30 Citizen Kane, the puzzle scene at Xanadu with Dorothy Comingore. "Do you know what time it is?" Yes we do.

Several clips of Cary Grant & Irene Dunne in My Favorite Wife, from the ending when she's in the attic and they are going to "wait" until Christmas.  (Watched many times as a teenager because Dunne's character is named Ellen :)

Repeated Dial M for Murder clips, both Ray Milland at the club during his alibi and Swann in the hallway with the latchkey

One black & white New Year's scene, men in tuxedos, I didn't recognize the film.

Barbara Stanwyck in Sorry, Wrong Number

Repeated Rex Harrison clips from the 1967 Volpone stand-in, The Honey Pot, where 3 women suitors bring him timepieces. Cappucine brings him an hourglass filled with gold specs for sand.

Rex: "Nothing like gold to pass the time. It is even the color of time... Gold. How little most people value time, little people. Like everything else, they will choose what's more, not what's better. Even time, they will pray to live 100, long, miserable years and feel cheated if they had say 50 of the best. Quantity yes, quality no.

"There's good time and bad time, you know, the clocks don't give a damn what time they measure. We do. We special ones. We slow down for the good. We sip it second by second like great wine."

Several versions of The Pit and the Pendulum, a sobering visual take on time cutting into our lives

Bette Davis in Now, Voyager, and Joan Crawford, all set to much violin playing.

Smith describes:

"Both Bette Davis and Joan Crawford start building to climaxes of divadom early, at around a quarter to the hour. Jaws going, eyeballs rolling. At ten to midnight Farley Granger looks utterly haunted, though I suppose he always looked that way. At three minutes to midnight people start demanding stays of execution: “I want to speak to the governor!” And the violins start, those rising violins, slashing at their strings, playing on our midnight angst."

Images of lots and lots of clocks striking the hour.

Orson Welles impaled by the avenging angle figure in church clock in The Stranger,

Rhett Butler in London running in to care for a screaming Bonnie Blue, with Big Ben at midnight seen through the window.

I loved seeing Gone with the Wind in a place of honor, and with that, it was time to go.

(Below, my post from the morning hours.)

For a thousand years in Thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night. Psalm 90:4 (Attributed to Moses)

I was curious about Christian Marclay's video art piece, The Clock: a 24-hour continuous montage of film clips synched to the actual time that is part of the Lincoln Center Festival 2012.

I went at 7:30 am one morning and got seated as the doors opened to a clip of Big Ben tolling 8:00 a.m. I missed some of the earliest next clips as my eyes adjusted to the darkened room and I found a place among the 20 or so white couches.

I had intended to stay for an hour, when all of a sudden I very reluctantly clocked out at 12:15 pm, just after noon. Going out into the midday sunlight felt like an intrusion to the exquisite world I had so easily spent more than four hours that truly went by in what felt like only a few blinks of the eye.

The piece is mesmerizing. It isn't only the staggering feat of all of the clips it one place. It is the artful way that they give life to the very definition of synergy: the whole is greater than the sum of the snippets.

And some are the very quickest of snippets, I would wager a mere 48 frames.

Marclay brings a filmmaker's sensibility to the piece: the pacing, the soundtrack that bleeds between clips, the actions that speak one to another, sometimes literally. None of this is groundbreaking, but his eye knows how to use the techniques to the max and that's how he sweeps you along.

I loved being in that room. I never felt such a shared feeling of our shared cinema heritage than in that communal experience. What a richness this film history is for those who want to partake. And each clip is a micro-connection to the ideas, characters, plots, themes, music that we create/watch to help us piece together our own lives. Storytelling is one of the most important elements to being human.

8:00 am to 12:15 pm
It takes a little time to get into the rhythm of the ubermovie. You want to remember the clips, but they roll by so quickly it's hard to grab them. Here's what I was able to grab to take with me:

•From 8 to 9 lots of clips of all manner of alarm clocks, people waking up, ablutions, going to work.

•8:45 David Niven as Phileas Fogg wins Around the World in 80 Days. The film will show up 2 more times before I leave.

•Somewhere around 9:17 am. I'm not certain of the film. It may have been About Schmidt. It started with a shot of an older guy lying in bed, in pajamas, then panning over to his TV set, that showed the World Trade Towers. They had both been hit, but were both still standing, which set the time.

•9:20 Deborah Harry & James Woods, Videodrome

Build up to noon/noon: lots of noisy clips and at noon, noon bells ringing. Yes, High Noon; Laura, which popped up 3 times while I was there; Back to the Future; Charles Laughton, Ray Milland The Big Clock; Babe.

2 seconds of Gone with the Wind. I didn't even see the clock, I must have blinked. But it was Scarlett waking up and smiling after the night of Rhett carrying her up the stairs.

2 seconds of Rebecca. Didn't see the clock here either, it's Joan Fontaine in the Monte Carlo hotel with Mrs. Van Hopper, who she will have to leave with. She's stalling for time until Max DeWinter comes to say good bye and she says "I'll check my room to see if I've left anything." That's the snippet.

2 seconds of The Palm Beach Story, Claudette Colbert at the train station, looks up at the clock. She will shortly meet the Ale & Quail Club.

Big Ben makes repeated appearances, most often tolling on the quarter hour, from unknown films. Country churches pop up often.

TV is not overlooked: several clips from Columbo; classic Twilight Zone, "Time Enough at Last," X-Files "Blood" with killer electronic messages (this was the elevator scene);

I wanted to return to see other day parts, but I did not make it back. So I don't know what Marclay's dark night of the soul looks like.

Time Takes Our Breath Away, Minute by Minute
The line of Psalm 90 popped into my head because the hours watching The Clock seemed to go by as minutes. And there is something of omniscience in Marclay's art, that his is able to pull together the very minutes of daily life.

Psalm 90 is about time, and our mortality, with a somewhat pessimistic view of the wrathful Jehovah. Its lines speak beautifully to our need for narrative in our lives, and how we count the days and weeks and years.

"For all our days are passed away in Thy wrath; we spend our years as a tale that is told.

The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off and we fly away.

So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom."

The Clock trailer. Which, to my delight, includes The Avengers episode, one of my favorite, called "The Hour That Never Was."


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Jeremy said...

I saw about 90minutes, around lunchtime, in Venice last year, and was absolutely mesmerised. I didn't know nearly as much as you do, and still found it wonderful. Would love the opportunity to see four in the morning, although preferably not at four in the morning.

M.A.Peel said...

Mesmerizing is the word used over and over by people who have experienced any part of it. Glad you also saw it. I wonder too what goes on between 1:00 and 5:00 am. But, Marclay is dead serious about experiencing it in real time.

The Museum of Modern Art in NY has purchased the piece. I do wonder how they will display it and if they will allow "out of time" viewing. Maybe in multiples of 12 hours, so you can see 4:00 am at 4:00pm!

Jeff said...

Great review. You capture what it's like to be there. I saw about 3 hours at Lincoln Center in the fall, and I've been to MOMA for two 4-hour chunks, including last night from 8:33 p.m to 12:45 a.m. I too would love to see the middle of the night; apparently there are a lot of dream sequences. But I don't think I'll ever be able to manage that.

By the way, I think Marclay has stipulated that the film must be shown in real time and this stipulation was probably included in MOMA's purchase.

Ellen O'Neill said...

Hi Jeff, you're right about the "real time" stipulation. I don't think I'm going to get to see the dreamtime hours myself. Thanks for stopping by. I like your Clock pie chart!