Ladies and gentlemen, I have just witnessed the most interesting movie I've ever seen. Christian Marclay's The Clock is a monument of nontraditional filmmaking; it has no consistent characters, no coherent score, and no legitimate story. It's a movie that consists solely of footage from other films, cut together into one 24-hour film about a single thing: time. The one through-line in the movie is that nearly every shot features a clock, a watch, or someone saying the time. The film is synchronized with the time the audience watches it (example: this screening began at 5pm Thursday and runs until 5pm Friday), allowing for a stunningly intricate - and original - theatrical experience.
Director: Christian Marclay
Starring: Random actors from cinema history
If you're still confused as to how this thing is put together, a good example I can give you is if you were to walk into this movie just before noon, you'd see Leonardo DiCaprio playing the hand of cards that wins him tickets aboard the Titanic, and him rushing to make it in time. Then, you'd abruptly cut to Gary Cooper in High Noon, warily watching the clock as the bell tolls. This movie has no bounds, and cuts back and forth between cinematic eras and genres at will. It's fascinating, able to take us through a whirlwind of film history while simultaneously providing a constant reminder of the ever-ticking present.
If you're thinking, "this must have taken Marclay FOREVER to put together!" you're not the only one. This interview says it took the director and his team of assistants a year of searching and compiling footage before he even knew if it was possible to complete, and then another two years of editing to finish the movie. An unbelievable creation, The Clock is not just shots of large clocks in Grand Central Station or bank robbers synchronizing their watches during a heist: much of the movie is comprised of throwaway moments in which characters are walking through a room and a clock is on the wall out of focus behind them. After a few minutes of getting used to watching the movie, half of the fun becomes playing the game of trying to spot the timepiece in each shot. And sometimes, it's not even a clear view of what time it is, indicating a staggering level of detail that Marclay and his team had to utilize in order to pause and zoom in to confirm the actual time displayed.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this film, though, is the way Marclay was able to edit the audio from thousands of different films down to a reasonably consistent level throughout. The hour of the film I watched was from 9:35pm to 10:35pm, so I was there during the famous 10:04pm lightning strike of the clock tower from Back to the Future. In that film, the main theme is blasting as Marty careens down the street in the DeLorean; in The Clock, the music is suppressed a bit to make sure the next edit to a completely different movie isn't aurally shocking when Marty and Doc are no longer needed.
Marclay also would occasionally have audio from one clip bleed over into another, even if the time period or genre was totally different. In a black and white film noir, a woman steps out of the bathroom, talking to an unseen man in the other room. We then see a modern day color film shot of a man in a bedroom alone, perking his head up as if listening to the now-muffled-but-continuing conversation of the woman in the "other room." Many of these instances are done to humorous effect, and oftentimes conversations that make mention of time are cleverly placed for a laugh.
The director was able to craft a lot of visual gags as well. When one character exited a scene through a door, Marclay would cut to someone else from a totally different movie walking through another door and shutting it behind him. The result is a continuous "story" that can go in any direction, not shackled by traditional act structures or narrative constraints. Soon after I began watching this movie, I was completely spellbound. The Clock made me take a step back, allowing for reflection and realization that everyone - regardless of his or her stature or circumstance - is a slave to time. It's the one constant we all share, and no matter how different we are, it affects each of us and dictates the events in our lives.
Since The Clock pulls clips from thousands of movies, there's no way Marclay would ever be able to secure the rights to all of this footage; this makes it impossible to showcase in normal theaters unless it's a free exhibition (as I saw tonight at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art). Check your local museum schedule to see if it's coming to one near you. The Clock gets my highest stamp of approval and, along with being the most interesting, this just may be the most impressive film I've ever seen. Until next time...