Last night I urged a friend to see The Clock.
“I think I read about that,” she said. No doubt she did: Kenny Turan in The LA Times, or Leo Braudy in The Los Angeles Review of Books or Zadie Smith in The New York Review of Books, or Wendy Lesser in The Threepenny Review, or way back in February, Peter Schjeldahl in The New Yorker.
In a blurt, I admitted that I’ve been three times. And it’s true: I went first with my daughter (for just a half an hour); again with my husband and son (forty-five minutes); and then, without telling anyone, I snuck over to LACMA all by myself (stayed for a whole hour). By this time The Clock was not just a guilty pleasure (you went again? In the middle of a weekday afternoon?)–but a puzzle, a riddle, something to be solved: Because each time I didn’t want it to end, each time I couldn’t wait to see what happened next, wondered what had happened before, resolved to come back; and each time, though I didn’t want to leave, I walked away strangely satisfied–which is to say stirred, inspired–and what does that tell you (tell me, anyway) about The Clock? Well, that this is art at its most compelling, all layered up and having to everything to do with life and the relationship between the two, art and life, I’m sure of it; drop into The Clock, and you might find yourself thinking about what is to drop into any moment anywhere; frame it this way or that, and it’s not just significant, it’s also a beginning or an ending depending on your point of view.
“Remind me,” said my friend. “What is it exactly?”
And I explained that The Clock is an installation at the Los Angeles County Museum by Christian Marclay, an artist best known until now for his work in sound; but this is 24 hours of film–old, new, color, black and white, silent, foreign, domestic, big screen and small–synched up to real time in Los Angeles (but only until the end of this week–the exhibit closes on Sunday, July 31st); a collage of found art–moving pictures–in which almost every frame references time, or features a clock.
And first off, don’t you have to admire the artist who meticulously edited the whole with full knowledge that most of us are not likely to see more than an hour or two? Second, imagine the delight for some of the people some of the time, of revisiting beloved movies, actors, images, now spliced together in a way that pays homage on the one hand, but, on the other–and this is third–dishes up a new idea about narrative, reminding us, that though we are wired to look for meaning in beginnings and endings, we are actually stuck in the middle most of the time. So–if a phone goes unanswered in one movie, somebody picks it up in another in the very next frame; and if a single scene happens to actually resolve in the space of an hour–as when DeNiro finally shows up to meet Meryl Streep at Grand Central Station in Falling in Love (a triumph of editing since the original film is 106 minutes long in its entirety)–we don’t need to remember why she didn’t believe he would come or what’s at stake if he doesn’t. The moment itself is hugely moving, and moves us along to the next.
But how to convince my friend of that? How to get her to rush out and see for herself before the end of the week? “When will they put out the DVD?” she asked.
Look, LACMA owns The Clock; undoubtedly the museum will produce a boxed set before too long. But I hope not. Because The Clock is meant to be viewed in real time–that’s the point. The narrative here–and there actually is one, I think–has something to do with all of these stories happening at once, and us, in the audience, complicit, trying to make sense of time in real time. What we are doing–watching the clock–is vital to the experience as conceived by Marclay. Here then is a work of art about the universal language (time!) which also serves to underscore the truth that, our penchant for meaning aside, we might as well surrender to our part in a story (for lack of a better word) that we can only ever partially imagine or understand.
So–go see The Clock (A 24 hour screening begins at 5 p.m. this Thursday). While you’re there, check out The Mourners, next door, also closing the 31st. Tim Burton is on view through October, it’s true. But otherwise, hurry, hurry, you’re running out of time…