Thoughts on Time After Viewing Christian Marclay’s "The Clock"

Chris Daley


"The Clock is a twenty-four-hour single-channel montage constructed from thousands of moments of cinema and television history depicting the passage of time. Marclay has excerpted each of these moments from their original contexts and edited them together to create a functioning timepiece synchronized to local time wherever it is viewed—marking the exact time in real time for the viewer for twenty-four consecutive hours."

– Los Angeles County Museum of Art

12:01. I have given myself an hour in which to write this. An hour used in this way seems an approximate and subjective measurement. If I become caught up in this project, an hour could pass fleetly. I could look up at the corner of my screen and see a :37 when I expected a :14. If I become distracted or prove unable to sever relations to my phone, the hour might drag endlessly.

12:14. There is no way to control time, although for my purposes here, I will chart it. We think that we have it shackled and compartmentalized, but time must find this amusing. We could no more likely shape fire. I was recently with a six-year-old girl who said when she grew up she wanted to be a singer, President, and the clouds, so she could block out the sun and make it less hot. Time is equally ambitious and unregulated.

12:19. Because when you sit in a theater watching Christian Marclay’s The Clock—in my case, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art—you become aware of what it might look like to manipulate time, to take its temperature, to capture it in small increments and hold it up like a gift.

12:24. A friend thought that The Clock was 24 hours of clock faces. How dull that would be. And how unlike Marclay’s project. Clocks, perhaps the most stiff and uninteresting aspect of time as we experience it, are simply a device for Marclay to use in his exploration of the nature of time, or as time is lived.

12:28. I have seen two sections of The Clock on two separate occasions: 3:30-4:10 PM and 10:05-11:05 AM.  During both visits, I was viscerally aware of what time of day it was, not in terms of what the clock says, but in terms of what happens at this time of day. This is 3:35 in the afternoon, the film said. Here it is from the angle of a meter expiring as a man runs to the bank. Here it is from the angle of a team of law enforcement officers rushing to a bombsite. (There is much rushing toward bombsites in The Clock. Thus is the nature of Hollywood.) Here it is from the angle of some women sitting down to tea in a period drama.

12:33. Here is 10:06 in the morning. Big and Carrie are getting married. A couple is waking up. A woman is not waking up, as Humphrey Bogart leans over her prone and drug-addled body. ("I can vacuum! She takes the pills!" the housekeeper has explained.) A team of law enforcement officers rushes to a bombsite. Sophia Loren runs sexily to breakfast while Marlon Brando tells her to eat more quickly. ("Yes, sir!" she keeps saying sexily.)

12:38. Because not only is The Clock about time—about how expectations of behavior change throughout the minutes, hours, day, about how decisions are made incessantly based on what some lines in a circle dictate—it is about the movies. Thousands of movies that Christian Marclay watched with a singular purpose, for how long? How much time?

12:48. Alarm clocks in movies demonstrate how careless filmmakers can be. In my 10:05-11:05 AM visit, alarms were going off willy nilly, as if someone would actually set their alarm for 10:13, 10:37, 10:54. . .

12:51. Marclay’s editing makes clear that certain minutes of the hour are more important than others. As the top of the hour approaches, the drama builds—artificially created by editing sequences, but also intrinsic to our arrangement of and adherence to clock time. Things happen purposefully at 2, at 5, at 8; if something happens at 4:37 or 9:03, it is either by accident or because someone is not, literally and metaphorically, on time.

12:58. One of the strangest sensations of The Clock is that, at least once during each of my two visits which were to be followed by other engagements, I felt the need to look at my watch. I was sitting there in the theater, watching time pass, but somehow in my mind, cinema time and real time existed in two separate realms. Realizing that in this one particular instance they do not is startling and magical.