The Clock

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You have roughly 84 hours and some number of minutes left to see “The Clock,” Christian Marclay’s astonishing creation, now at the Paula Cooper Gallery in Chelsea, through Saturday.  Admission is free. It has been mobbed, so you may have to wait a while to get in and/or find a seat.

“The Clock,” as you may have read, puts together film clips having to do with time of day (and night), clocks, watches, ticking, minutes, hours, seconds and all things related.  It assembles – for 24 hours-- those thousands of clips in what you might call “real time,” proceeding chronologically, tick, tick, tick.  And whatever time is shown on screen is synchronous with the actual time of day/night at which you are seeing it.

“The Clock” creates little audio-visual essays around certain major moments.  I was there in the morning, so I got to see the incredible buildup to twelve noon, as the film wrings a suspenseful climax from the juxtaposition of chase scenes to hospital scenes, heists, religious ceremonies, trysts, shootouts, detective dramas and silent comedies.  And then, climax realized at noon, the film just proceeds to 12:01. An then 12:02.  And so it goes.  Tick, tick, tick.  There’s Sandra Bullock, hopping out of bed, she’s late. Is that Richard Burton, walking across a London Street, looking up at Big Ben?  Stan Laurel smashes his clock with a shovel. A white room somewhere in the far east is dominated by a huge wall clock with black Roman numerals.  And always, it is the right time.

It’s especially interesting to see “The Clock” right now, as Oscar time nears, because the film has a passing resemblance – but only that — to the usually mundane “clip reels” that are part of Oscar night, the ones that isolate a theme or a genre and riff on that.  Or those that try to tell the History of Cinema in 3 minutes.  “The Clock” is so long, so obsessive, so completely unpredictable and so hypnotic that it puts those to shame.  When your mind isn’t spinning trying to identify the movie, the star, the year—you can muse about the idea of time playing a starring role, the idea of reconfiguring movies you already know to mean something else altogether. 

Marclay’s film wouldn’t exist at all but for the idea of doing this as a work of art.  As a commercial project, it would be doomed by rights restrictions and runaway costs. As art, shown for free in a gallery, seen by people seated on couches, coming and going as they wish, it is like the longest youtube feature ever made, a film-lover’s fantasy in which all films are created equal.

“The Clock” closes on Saturday, February 19th at 6 PM. The Paula Cooper Gallery is located at 534 West 21st Street. For more information, visit their website.