Box Office Boffo and The Clock

This morning I treated myself to nearly five hours of The Clock at the David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center. The Clock is Christian Marclay’s immensely enjoyable 24-hour compilation of time-related clips from movies; it consists of thousands of bits of footage from a wide spectrum of films, which have been compiled in such a way that the time in the movie always matches the time in the theater.

If you love movies, you should by all means catch as much of The Clock as you can, should it happen to make an appearance in a city near you.

I entered the screening at 8:45 a.m., and I departed at 1:30 p.m. I wish I could have stayed longer.

In the segment I saw, I glimpsed clips from several #1 movies I’ve written about on Boffo: Kelly’s Heroes, Five Easy Pieces, Tora! Tora! Tora!, Shaft, The French Connection, The Hot Rock, What’s Up, Doc?, The Godfather, The Getaway, and Save the Tiger are the ones I remember catching. I also saw many, many clips from #1 movies I will write about someday, including Chinatown, Back to the Future, Titanic, Pulp Fiction, and many more. I saw only about 20% of the whole thing, so the list of #1s that are in The Clock is long indeed.

A few thoughts about The Clock, while I’m here. The variety of the movies selected for inclusion is vast, which is central to The Clock’s appeal. You’ve got all sorts: thrillers from the 2000s bumping right up against cozy old British movies from the 1930s and forgettable dramas from the 1980s.

There are lots of familiar faces — a lot of The Clock is about the power of stars: Humphrey Bogart, Al Pacino, Sophia Loren, Henry Fonda. There are also a lot of anonymous faces. One of the things you realize in watching The Clock is that ultimately, every casting decision is perfect in its own way. You see sooooo many people, so many faces, and they’re all just right somehow, transfixing and apt. In each case, a lot of talented people worked really hard to make it so.

Also: so many situations and moods! As a matter of course, tension and impatience are going to loom large in a compilation about the never-ending tick-tick-tick of life (or cinema), but you get so many different places and aspects of life: offices, bedrooms, car interiors, palaces, church towers, street scenes. . . . it just goes on and on.

In The Clock, you never find out what happened before or what happened next; everything’s out of context, which is charming and, somewhat surprisingly, never gets irritating. It’s all in medias res, all the time.

It gets quite amusing, how insistent the clips are about the time. People are constantly asking or saying what time it is, and the clocks caught in the background always show exactly whatever time they happen to be showing — but never accidentally! That detail, repeated over and over again, somehow catches the essence of filmmaking. In most cases the time doesn’t matter at all, but it’s in the nature of filmmaking to insist on the reality of the situation they’ve concocted.

In the end, what The Clock proves so gloriously is that, while not every movie is great, almost every movie is at least diverting. Indeed, almost every moment in every movie is diverting. That’s the defining job of a movie: to hold the viewer’s interest at every single moment. Over and over and over again, we see people engaged in some bit of business that somehow involves or invokes time (even if just by the clock on the wall), and over and over and over again, the end result is worth watching.


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