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Monday Movies Is Out Of Time

When a character on screen swims under water, do you ever try to hold your breath for the duration? If so, you may intuit without my help that the radical departure of Christian Marclay’s 24-hour video installation The Clock is that in it, one minute=one minute.

This clock has a very different use in The Clock than it did in its original setting.

The Clock is, in fact, a clock. Its minute and hour hands are clips of feature films that feature clocks. Some are famous, some recognizable, others next to anonymous. Some are critical moments — I had the pleasure to be there for 10:04 pm, the exact moment when the Hill Valley Courthouse was famously struck by lightning on November 12, 1955; cheers went up. Others suggest significant moments within a narrative–the changing of an hour, almost always; even a shot that shows one minute changing to another suggests that a transition is happening elsewhere in the world.

In the world of The Clock, this becomes startlingly true and not-true at once. Whatever momentousness the viewer feels is immediately stolen, as the film moves on to another clip. Indeed, some of the most telling clocks are those that are purely there as set dressing — the large, plain institutional clocks in police stations, the decorative tabletop clocks in living rooms. The force that those clocks exert on life is anterior to what we might naively imagine to be cinema’s chief force, narrative.

Cinematic narrative found its language contemporaneously with the great Modern novelists, Woolf, Forster, Joyce, who (along with Bergson) portrayed time as it elapsed within the self. We’ve received this as a revolutionary dawn, but it was also a fairly quick rebellion — time had only become an impersonal and rigid global latticework in the previous generation, when the need to schedule trains led to the imposition of commonly set clocks.

Marclay’s clock atomizes the cinema’s endlessly malleable putty of time. The minutes are revenants, hungry ghosts unglued from their narratives, friendly snakes eating their tails. I can’t separate the brutal reimposition of impersonal time from the sheer fun of seeing grandfather clocks, clock towers, bedside alarm clocks and wristwatches all finally get one looping dance extravaganza, where Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd are just two of the innumerable guest stars. The Clock is strangely fun to watch. I’ve done it twice now, last Saturday from 9:40 pm for about an hour, and last year from about 10 to 11 am.

[Update: I removed the embedded trailer for the clock, now at the link. As the youtube page points out, it should technically only be watched at 12:04 pm. I don’t want to mess up your sense of time.]

I’ll keep going back if LACMA keeps showing it. I’ll stop if I learn to time my dreams. What did you spend your time watching?


March 26, 2012 - Posted by | boredom, film, innovative technologies that shape our lives, meta, Monday Movies | , ,


  1. Hey, I saw that this weekend too, though in the afternoon. Surprisingly watchable. Clearance issues means that you’ll pretty much only see this at a museum, ever.

    Comment by Robert Halford | March 26, 2012

  2. Did you guys see the Chris Burden Metropolis II while you were there? So amazing!

    Comment by jms | March 26, 2012

  3. Yes! My thought on seeing it was that there is literally no one, of any age, who could dislike Metropolis II.

    Comment by Robert Halford | March 26, 2012

  4. I was only there after closing time — gotta get back there and see it.

    Comment by Josh K-sky | March 26, 2012

  5. My wife and I went with our usual movie buddies to see Hunger Games. I wasn’t all that interested, but didn’t use my veto powers. It wasn’t bad, certainly wasn’t great. I was afraid the constant quick cutting from camera to camera and using handhelds would trigger my wife’s vertigo, but when she didn’t complain, I was left wondering why the hell they were doing it. I understood it in the Bourne movies, where they’re trying to show the speed with which Jason Bourne was having to make decisions. But Jesus, here she’s just walking through the woods!

    As I was watching, I guessed people would complain about the editing in scenes where some of the child participants were being killed. David Edelstein said they pretty much wimped out and didn’t make these scenes as powerful as they could be. But it’s easy to hear the complaints about the movie’s brutality if they go with graphic violence there. Instead the moviemakers decided to put the emotion in the scenes where characters we’re allowed to care about are killed. Maybe not the BOLD decision somebody like Edelstein wanted, but understandable and effective in another way.

    Obviously, I read some other reviews and I noticed a lot of the complaints are ways elements of the book were treated. But as somebody who hasn’t read the books, I didn’t care about any of that. I sometimes wonder what would be the best way for critics to handle movies that come from books. If they’ve read the book, they’re often put off by how the movie changed things and I think they might lose sight of how it works as is. But if they haven’t read the book, they can’t take the movie to task for making horrible decisions in the translation.

    Comment by mattintoledo | March 27, 2012

  6. Matt, my friend Sarah has done some interesting (i.e. not just complaining) writing about the adaptation of The Hunger Games from book to movie.

    Comment by Josh K-sky | March 27, 2012

  7. ||

    Thoughts on Late Chrysanthemums 1954

    1) Naruse is almost always about women without men, sometimes with children, in their 30s and 40s, struggling with money problems. Discussions of money, subsistence, spending, budgeting are omnipresent.
    “Romance” is rare to nonexistent, and fails. Men around in any way are usually minor, often ordered around dismissively, or valued without trust as “boy toys,” tools, providers. He buries the Bechdel test.

    1a) Naruse shows no overt politics or social commentary, and very little drama. But his work is always firmly grounded in place, time, history and contingency, the material and concrete.

    “Anything that she cherishes she keeps close to her heart, inside her garments, and she treats her wads of money and a letter from the man she loves with the same sacred reverence. Naruse is careful to accentuate the way these gestures — one of greed and one of desire — mirror one another.” …Only the Cinema

    The mise-en-scene, the details
    in the background or edges of the shot are important. And of course, the external environment changed with the times, so that his 60s movies are much more about the bourgeoisie.

    2) Modernism has been described as “the aetheticization of the structures of oppression” That can be beauty or ugliness. Ozu is aesthetic.
    Naruse might be called the anti-aesthetic director, he wants to draw attention away from his technique, make himself invisible. Casual realism and natural flow.
    Naruse is about people and relations, not society or art, including the viewer’s relation to the characters.

    Yes, geishas, but rarely working, rarely in their role. What is the geisha, what does it represent? The site of male social freedom and female social subjection. (Ozu uses marriage)

    But Naruse is not a “classical” director. Naruse is famous for all the walking. Characters are most often moving, at variable speeds that show internal states. Walking between sites of performativity, they are only free
    when moving.

    3) Compared to Ozu, because he does have consistent camera techniques, but Naruse usually when using a static camera, places it ten or twenty degrees off the perpendicular plane to action.
    The observer position on ukiyo-e.

    4) Naruse radicalism is in his editing and his overall structures, again, to be invisible on casual viewing, so much so that viewers can ask “Was there a story here?”
    Naruse was revered in Japanese film community for his ability to build emotions visually, with body language and eye movements. Repeat:editing is radical, but very subtle.
    Is he allegorical or structuralist?

    5) Naruse was commercial. His movies made money, partly because he worked cheap, partly because somehow his movies entertained, and often ended on or with optimism or acceptance.
    “Woman Who Ascends the Stairs” is unusual and not typical.

    6) Naruse, in his personal life, was alone. No family. Married in the thirties for three years. Talked to no one about his feelings and life except waitresses. Did not frequent bars or brothels (Mizoguchi),
    or go drinking with the guys (Ozu). Naruse was broke. He would spend all his salary on the shoots, making sure actors and crew never had to buy lunch, and had a good time after work.

    7) Much of this is exaggeration. Naruse has many movies about bad marriages, for instance, and 1938-1950 were not creative years.

    8) Naruse is my current favorite

    0) Some of this stuff is borrowed or stolen. There’s too much competition, often despairingly unread, out there to blog movies


    Comment by bob mcmanus | March 27, 2012

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