It’s time. The winged chariot at my back, and all that. Taking a seat on one of the comfortable couches at the National Gallery in Ottawa, I mentally strap myself in. It’s time to take a time bath, to run a time marathon, by watching Christian Marclay’s 24-hour-long installation, The Clock, in a single sitting. The artist doesn’t actually recommend it, but an artwork of this size demands a big response. The piece is an exercise in surrendering oneself to controlled chance, a precisely edited jumble of visual material, classic films, forgotten mediocrities and television shows, without context or backstory, all telling the time in real time. If it’s 8:17 on your watch, it’s 8:17 in The Clock. There is no beginning or end to The Clock. I step in midstream.
7 a.m.: Catherine Deneuve is going insane
At a little after 7 a.m., Lee J. Cobb is yelling in black and white, and then, James Bond (the Roger Moore version) appears. He’s off to work early, getting fitted with new gadgets from Q before his next mission. Meanwhile, in black and white, Catherine Deneuve is going insane in Roman Polanski’s Repulsion.
Try to turn off the identifying machine – the clips go by too fast to follow. A man spits out his coffee. Various couples wake up in bed but Hilary Swank, from Boys Don’t Cry, wakes up alone.
Workers are lining up to punch factory clocks, though it’s not yet 7:30 a.m. The Daily News truck deposits a bundle of papers at a street corner. This could be a day-in-the-life documentary, except for the celebrities. They keep waking up everywhere – Harrison Ford, William Hurt and John Cusack. Michelle Pfeiffer wakes her daughter. They’re like guests at a weekend house party. Sometimes enforced guests: There’s a morning roll call in a prison. Brutality turns to softness: Ingrid Bergman embraces a man.
And why is Matthew Broderick spying on Tom Cruise? No, the spying is an editing trick that will become increasingly familiar: A character looks off-screen, and we cut to someone in another movie. Or someone opens a door, and we’re in another film. Soon, certain actors repeat. You can imagine they’re the cast in a multiple-strand story: starring Ingrid Bergman, Jack Nicholson, Peter Sellers, Michael Caine and John Cusack – and various James Bonds. And Big Ben, booming like timpani.
Some time around 7:30 a.m., mail is delivered: Gene Hackman picks up a letter, which, in close-up is for someone in another movie, Ulysses’s Molly Bloom. Yes, Molly, yes. The 24-hour video pays tribute to James Joyce’s all-in-a-day novel.
Breakfast with Marlon, lunch with Faye Dunaway
No time to waste. The rush hour is on. People wait in traffic jams, rush to class, punch clocks and take their desks. Except for the slackers, who keep waking up later and later. There are things to be done. It’s 9:15 a.m. and Susan Hayward, facing execution, is consulting with a padre. Jodie Foster awaits her day in court in The Accused. There’s a lot of waiting. Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr tell everyone to wait, John Cleese makes school boys wait. Hugh Grant is getting up late. He has Four Weddings and Funeral to attend to. Children are waiting to enter Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Lon Chaney, the Wolf Man wakes up, human again. Humphrey Bogart steps out of a cab shortly after 10 a.m. Now it’s a party.