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Christian Marclay’s The Clock focuses entirely on the concept of time.
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The Clock

Christian Marclay

Museum of Fine Arts, Loring Gallery

Sept. 16, 2011 – Dec. 31, 2011

It is quite an ambitious project to create a 24-hour film. More ambitious yet is to create one without main characters, without a plot, and which comprises entirely of scenes involving clocks from other films. Yet that is precisely what Christian Marclay has done — and very effectively, too.

The Clock, by spanning much of cinematic history, reveals something of our deep emotional attachment to time. It is a film made of thousands of clips spliced together, each one of which contains a reference to the time, either verbally or, more usually, in the form of some clock or watch. The clips are chronologically ordered and the film’s looped screening is timed precisely so that each minute shown on screen corresponds to the local time of the viewer. Thus, the film itself becomes a timepiece.

Marclay seamlessly weaves together scenes ranging from students taking an exam to an assassination at a wedding. You might jump as someone is electrocuted while de-misting a bathroom mirror, or laugh as a wristwatch is “baptized” by Robin Williams in a diner. You might recognize famous actors such as Johnny Depp and Judi Dench, or well-known films like Big Daddy and The Lives of Others. There are clips in black and white, some in French, and some from sci-fi films and Westerns. With Marclay’s background as a musician, the audio of the film is also skillfully edited; for example, the chugging of a drink in one scene is impeccably timed to the impatient pen-tapping of Sandra Bullock in the next.

The clips in The Clock are like teasers, and viewing a never-ending cascade of them is surprisingly neither confusing nor exasperating. It is not like walking into a movie theater late and struggling to figure out what’s happening. Instead, it’s more like watching exciting trailers. There are hints that a complex web of hidden subplots exists, which you are relieved from needing to know about.

Marclay and six assistants spent 21 years creating the nearly $500,000 film which was recently co-acquired by the MFA and the National Gallery of Canada. Both galleries cannot exhibit the film at the same time, but a shared purchase was encouraged given that only six editions of the artwork exist, and that this arrangement will allow more people to see it. So far, The Clock has garnered such success that the MFA has extended its exhibition to Dec. 31.

And with good reason. I myself went to the MFA to see another exhibit, but thought I might as well take five minutes to check out The Clock. Forty-five minutes later, I was dragging myself away. It truly is quite a unique and unusual experience. Ironically — even though I was constantly being reminded of it — I found that, while watching it, I forgot the passing of time.