Time was stolen, or at least given up willingly, at the screening of Christian Marclay’s The Clock this past weekend at Paula Cooper Gallery. Riding on a wave of exuberant publicity, the 24-hour video work, which started at 10 AM on Friday morning and looped until 6 PM on Saturday evening drew crowds that at times snaked half-block from the gallery to the West Side Highway. It was the last of four special screenings that showed the piece in its entirety.
“I’ve been waiting for two hours, so I hope that when I get in there, I can stay for at least 30 minutes,” a woman told me at 3 PM on Friday. She looked up from the New York Times crossword puzzle and laughed, explaining she’d heard about the show from “Jerry Saltz’s Facebook page.”
STILL FROM THE CLOCK
Inside the gallery, converted into a movie theater with long gray couches for lounging, the mood was reverent. Not a whisper, not a popcorn bag, not a smart phone broke the silence, enraptured as the crowd was by the video piece projected on the back wall of the gallery. For those tuning in now, Marclay’s work samples thousands of film excerpts that depict the passing of time”—a clicking wristwatch, a wall clock in an airport, a sleepy sundial awash in afternoon sunlight—and sutures them together, minute by minute, so that they unfold concurrently with local real time.
I first embarked upon a screening of the film on Friday at mid-afternoon, and Marclay’s video, which pulsates like a living, breathing thing, was showing clips of people awash in the golden glow of approaching evening. Many of the visuals come from the ahistorical jumble of popular memory—Tom Hanks from Sleepless in Seattle at the airport with a bouquet of roses for Meg Ryan, Robin Williams losing his cool over an instant camera in One Hour Photo, a slumbering James Bond taking a nap in bed, awoken by a femme fatale.
Consisting entirely of stock, drawn primarily from films made over the past century but occasionally interspersed with clips from television shows like The Simpsons or Sex and the City, the collaged film clips are imbued with the sleepy, suspended qualities of the late afternoon. Although the film doesn’t suggest any linear narrative—acting in equal parts as clock and elegy to the history of cinema—the latent possibility of more action in the nighttime seemed to build with each passing minute.
Outside, a trickle of stunned viewers emerged from the screening room every few minutes, seemingly hesitant to leave, but inexorably sucked back into the real time of their own lives. “I could have watched all 24 hours,” someone told his friend as they turned down 21st Street, their backs to the fading sunlight over the Hudson River. At the end of the swelling line, a self-proclaimed film buff named Wayne, bearded and dressed like he was looking forward to bunkering in, was informed that he’d have to wait over three hours to get into the screening. “That’s ok,” he shrugged. “I have snacks.”