Here are the viewing log posts from my original tumblr blog, watchingtheclocktoronto2012.tumblr.com recording my attempt to view Christian Marclay's The Clock, "the entire thing," during a four day trip to Toronto in 2012.
6:15 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Tuesday, October 16, 2012
I finally found the Power Plant a little after 6 yesterday afternoon, after wandering the wrong down Queen’s Quay for a while. I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t a line (well, not personally disappointed—I was happy to walk right in—but disappointed, in a way, for the significance of and reputation of The Clock, and by extension for my own enterprise as a blogger watching The Clock).It was a typical art gallery screening room, nine white Ikea couches (check the count, Dave), and people sitting along the back wall. But there was a couch (middle row, right side) with only one person on it, so I took the seat.(I figured that the people along the back wall were a group who wanted to stay together, not sit on couches with strangers.)
Anyway, I sat down and started watching. And of course the first thing I did, absurdly, was try to check my watch (I couldn’t see it) and then my phone (secretively) so I could make a note of time for later recording in my spreadsheet log. And then I realized how ridiculous that was—because, of course, on the screen, was the time. 6:15. Several times.
At first the experience didn’t seem all that great—oh, it was interesting alright, but I couldn’t escape a tiny nagging feeling that I had come all this way to watch a clever technical exercise.
Then gradually things changed. By 8:30, when I left, I was mesmerized, and if I may say so, deeply concerned about the human condition. What happened? Well, it may be that the sequence from 7:45 to 8:15 is extraordinarily strong (and I think it is)—or it may be that people, that is, American and European 20th century clock-obsessed people—do more interesting things around 8 p.m. than at 6:30 p.m. (whoddathunk?)
But on the whole, I think what happened was a change in the way I was watching. When I sat down, I was playing a game—catch that reference, identify that actor, name that editing technique. But The Clock makes it hard to think that way. You’re watching someone spin the chamber of a revolver, and listening to a clock tick, and you’re thinking about the cinematic convention of guns in drawers and the next moment you’re thinking about how hard it is to put on white gloves when you’re in a hurry.Pretty soon I had to abandon the effort to verbalize all these connections, and surrendered to just watching them and feeling them. How hard it is to put on gloves. How hard to start the show on time. How hopeful and frustrating to cook for others. How dangerous to sit in the audience.
11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Well it happened again—after a slow start, my mind adjusted to The Clock, and by the time I left, after two and half hours this time, I had to tear myself away. Of course, it was like putting down a book, not really leaving something for good, since I know I’ll be back. I should mention that I occasionally dozed off, in the way that I usually doze off when switching from a the world of getting things done to a world of imaginative immersion. Something in my consciousness needs to reset itself as I move from looking at the world as a list of actionable items, to looking at experience as something to be understood more deeply, both cognitively and emotionally.
And this time I’m quite certain that the change occurred in myself, and my attention, since this chunk of The Clock included the wham bang climax of Noon. I found it good, but not as good as the climax at 8 p.m., and I’m pretty sure the difference was in the perceiver, not the perceived.
Some random things noticed in this session:
Frequent appearances by Vincent Price, in both campy horror roles and the earlier mid-Atlantic parts he played (that is, Eastern seaboard sophisticates who could either be English or American.).
The most common TV show seems to be McGyver.
Recurring bits with that movie with Johnny Depp in wire-rims and Christopher Walken in a moustache.
Then, after an hour and a half, the change starts to occur—I give up on trying to catalog the references and the editing tricks—and Marclay has Hollywood editing down cold—both continuity and discontinuity .A scene flowing as characters walk through doors, a glance of the eyes followed by what the eyes see, even though it’s two or three different films being cut together. There’s usually some sort of linkage between one shot and the next, besides the time references, and if you follow that link, you have to change the way you think. At least I did.
One approximation (of this idea, still ill-formed in my head): one begins to watch The Clock the way one listens to a piece of classical music.
2nd approximation: it becomes a new kind of movie, a three-way collaboration between Marclay, the original filmmakers, and the viewer. The original filmmakers supply the raw material, Marclay supplies the musical structure, and the viewer supplies the emotional content.
More on this later, unless I come up with another idea in the next session.
3:45 p.m. to 6:15 p.m.
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
A question: is it work watching The Clock? Does your brain burn a lot of calories, make a lot of new connections, and leave you somewhat tired—even though you’ve just been sitting on an Ikea couch for the entire time?
My guess is yes—and I would throw this out to the brain science research community as a slam dunk project.Three groups watch moving images for 90 minutes straight:
Group 1. Watches cable TV (or any other service with 100+ channels) with remote in hand, free to channel surf (Control group 1)
Group 2. Watches Turner Classic Movies (Control group 2)
Group 3. Watches The Clock (would have to follow the rules of The Clock—only show what is actually being shown at the time the experiment is taking place.
Randomly vary the times of the experiment, to even out variations in quality of channel-surfing and TCM (and to obey the rules ofThe Clock).
My guess is that the group watching The Clock would have profoundly different brain activity than either control group. But how? I await the research results.
Anyway, The Clock at 6:15p.m. (which is the only few minutes I’ve seen twice so far) is far better—more musical, more engrossing—when you see it after watching for two and a half hours, as compared to just walking in, with sore feet.
1:30 p.m. to 3:45 p.m.
Thursday, October 18, 2012
Well, it’s getting difficult now. I remained sleepy throughout this chunk of The Clock. Every five minutes or so, a sideways transition threatened to send me off to dream land. And now I’ve arrived at the 9.5 hour mark, a solid block from 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. marked in color on my spreadsheet. Which means I will soon have to start viewing at times when I am not normally awake, or at least not out in public, so the stress and discomfort factors will undoubtedly increase.
More clips from The X-Files. I think Scully has a habit of telling Mulder what time it is.
Lots of clips in this section from the remake of Taking of Pelham 1-2-3, the one with John Travolta and Denzel Washington, which must have just come out a few months before The Clock was finished.(Actually, I just checked—the remake came out 2009, andThe Clock premiered in 2010). Travolta, the bad guy, makes one of those demands beloved of Hollywood screenwriters who have to please producers who have taken a single “narrative structure” seminar: he makes a demand, at 2:13 p.m., that must be fulfilled by 3:13 p.m., or lots of people die. I’m wondering if Marclay had a few holes in that time period, and was desperate to fill them. Well, of course, clips illustrative of a tired (or soon-to-be-tired) convention deserve their spot in Marclay’s attention, but still, to see so much of a 2nd-rate remake…
Before going in to see The Clock at 1:30, I spent about an hour watching The Power Plant’s other show: three video installations by Omer Fast, which are very good and interesting, though none of them are as good as the complex two-sided installation by Fast that I saw at the 2008 Whitney Biennial. (A buzzer should go off at this point, and I should receive a penalty for Art Tourism Name Dropping….)
As I left The Power Plant at 1 p.m., to grab a cup of coffee, a large group of high school students on a field trip was queuing up to see the clock. I though perhaps I might have to wait my turn, but the kids have short attention spans, apparently, and were filing out when I came back at 1:30 p.m.
8:30 p.m. To 12:30 a.m.
Thursday-Friday, October 18-19, 2012
Despite—or perhaps because of—a dreary rainy evening (thank goodness I’ve figured out how to use the subway here in Toronto!) there was a line when I arrived at The Power Plant tonight. Only three people ahead of me, but still, a line, a queue, a waiting list made manifest. I’ve actually been hoping for a line, not just to brag about (“Back in ‘12, when I first saw The Clock, the lines stretched around…”) but to give me a chance to chat with my fellow Clock Watchers…. But hardly had I begun a conversation when a solo person came out of the show, and I was given the chance to jump ahead of the couple in front of me. The screening room was packed, all 9 Ikea couches filled to capacity (i.e., three persons each), and people seated all along the back wall, the side walls, and even between the couches. This is a good chance to do some number calculations. The couches hold 27 people—and I’d guess that they let maybe double that in the room at once, maybe a few less. That gives us a capacity in the high 40s or low 50s. Anyway, for the next four hours, the couches remained full, and there was always a healthy number sitting on the floor. And for the most part, they were sitting very. very still, giving their full attention on the screen. Many people who were there when I came in made it until midnight. Or rather, The Clock held them until midnight. It was that good.
I got into the room about 10 past eight, and found a place on a couch by eight-thirty, when my “official” shift started.
Midnight was extraordinary, wild in the moment but slower and sadder in the build-up and aftermath than I would have expected.
Lots of lonely anxious women, lying alone and sleepless in beds…
Many things happen, guns are fired, couples reach orgasm, bodies are discovered, but they are never the thing you’ve been set up to expect—or maybe they are the distant cousins of what you’ve expected.
Every grandfather clock is an intimation of its own destruction. (Anyone who has seen The Clock will know exactly what I mean!)
During the four hours of watching, I found myself calculating just how difficult it would be for me to achieve my goal of seeing the whole thing. And the odd thing was, these thoughts were not distractions—they didn’t take me out of the piece at all. For one thing, reflecting on the cyclical rules that we impose upon time was entirely appropriate. And since the logical part of my brain wasn’t really involved in responding to The Clock, it was free to calculate, now and then, to its content.
Recurring bits with the gents from The Time Machine. Were there two different movies? With nearly identical staging and costumes? Or did the lead character change midway?
So far, I’ve only noticed two clips from the TV series 24. Many more from Matlock, The X-Files, McGyver (none in this evening session, however—McGyver seems to be a man of the day), and The Twilight Zone. Must have something to do with how often clocks are explicitly referenced. But in this session, there were a number of moody, clock-less clips from the X-Files. (Maybe I just didn’t see the clock, or maybe Marclay just likes The X-Files.)
7:30 a.m. to 11 a.m.
Friday, October 19, 2012
Last night, in the long approach to midnight, my rational mind made the following discovery: that while I had two full days left in Toronto, and would have only 11 hours remaining to be seen after that shift, the remaining parts of The Clock could only be seen at specific times, and these were extremely inconvenient times, and I basically had no options. There was only one way to do it: go back to the hotel, sleep a little, and come back for the morning hours on Friday, then try to catnap through the rest of Friday, and watch the midnight shift on early Saturday. I made these calculations while my emotional mind was watching Juliet Binoche iron her clothes while drinking wine with a calm, quiet fury—what is she doing?—home, alone, drinking and ironing at this hour?And other similar scenes, many featuring Joan Crawford wearing the most formidable makeup ever worn—Joan Crawford in a Joan Crawford mask.
So I came home, wrote last night’s blog entry, which kept me up till 2:30, then slept till 6 a.m., got up, drank a cup of coffee, ate an apple, attended to my bodily needs, made myself presentable though I felt like a zombie, and took the subway (very pre-rush hour) back to The Power Plant. No lines at this hour. Maybe seven people in the room, each on their own couch. I had a choice of couches, and took the one on the right side, where I hadn’t been so far, and watched from 7:30 to eleven.
People waking up, eating, washing, shaving. Lots of post-coital regret. Lots of lovers over-sleeping. Commuting and punching in. Teachers, students, and lessons. Then as the morning, progressed, action plots come into play while the lovers continue to wake, look at their watches, and realize they how late they are.
As happened several times before, The Clock got better the longer I watched. Who would think that the hour between 10 and 11 a.m. would encapsulate all the tragic sadness of the human condition?
A woman walks down some stairs in a public space. The shot is overhead. The woman is beautiful, blond, well-dressed. She might be an actress I should know, but I’m not sure. The architecture is modern, severe, and the place becomes an abstract composition. The steps are like arrows, pointing somewhere. The woman drops her gloves. Maybe she throws them. She thinks about picking them up, but she doesn’t. Maybe we see her watch, but I’m not looking for that. I’m watching another human being in torment.
12:30 a.m. to 7:30 a.m.
Saturday, October 20, 2012
So did I achieve my goal or not? Is the heading of this post honest, or is it, to put it nicely, fudging the facts? Those of you who check my spreadsheet will see that 92 fifteen-minute periods have been proudly marked with color-coded dates, indicating that I sat in the screening room and saw those segments, for a total of 23 hours seen. You’ll also see four segments, from 12:30 to 1:30, with the words “waiting in line” and highlighted in red—the shameful red of mistakes, violations, demerits, and failure.
Here’s what happened: I was pretty tired yesterday, after burning the candle at both ends, so I was able to put myself down for a late nap/early bed-time at 6:30 p.m., setting the alarm on my phone (this trip has involved a tremendous amount of fiddling with the settings of my Android phone, since it is also serving as the brains of my portable laptop, but that subject awaits another blog, a mashup for another era), and slept lightly until 11 p.m. It was just starting to rain as I headed out, so back up to my room for the umbrella, which turned out to be very wise since it had started to pour as I emerged from the subway downtown. I was feeling very proud of myself asI approached The Power Plant, safely umbrella-ed, as Friday was about to turn into Saturday. Not only had I mastered the weather and public transportation of a foreign city (admittedly a supremely rational city), I also fancied myself an expert on the crowd patterns of The Clock. Just 24 hours previously I had watched until 12:30 a.m., and had seen a full screening room lose half its occupants in the half-hour after midnight.
But that was a weeknight. This was the weekend. There were 50 or so people ahead of me, waiting in line for spots in an already-full venue with a capacity of 50, and I ended up waiting for an hour and half.
So did I fail?
I would say no, not at all, and here’s why: the line was part of the experience. And the line was social.It was an opportunity to chat with other people about The Clock, something I had really been missing.Now, it would have been a lot better to wait in line for 30 minutes instead of 90 minutes, because we really had only about 30 minutes of chatting in us.But still, it was very, very cool: at 1 a.m. on a cold rainy night there were still 20 of us waiting, willingly if not entirely patiently in the outer lobby of a non-profit art center. Since The Clock lacks start times and end times and intermissions, the line is its most social dimension.
So I got in at 1:30.When it’s that crowded, and you’re one of the ones sitting on the floor, the quality of your attention is somewhat diminished because people are stepping over your legs and you’re scanning to see if there’s an opening on a couch. Meanwhile, up on the screen, people are having sex, shooting each other, chasing each other, getting very drunk, and finding bodies. Lots of sex, and it was very different than the sex scenes at other times of the day, which tend to be kind of athletic. At this hour we see a lot half-asleep sex, half-drunk sex, sleeping together in both senses at once. The actual shots of clocks and watches become less frequent during this period—the characters on the screen have other things on their mind than the time. When the time of day, or night, is mentioned, it’s almost always with a sense of how inappropriate it is. When some says “It’s almost two o’clock!” or “It’s two in the morning!” they mean “This isn’t the time for that.”
Around 2:30 a.m. I found a spot on a couch, just as the dream sequences began. The first one was that Dali sequence from that Hitchcock movie. (I could look up which Hitchcock movie it was, but does it matter?) One thing I hadn’t realized: the old Hollywood convention to introduce a dream sequence is to have the hands of a clock spinning rapidly, backward and forward. Lots of people did it, besides Dali and Hitchcock.
My mind remained sharp until about 5 a.m. Around 4:30, the alarm clocks start going off, with increasing frequency, reaching a peak around 7:00 a.m. The hour between 5 and 6 consists of strange dream sequences interrupted by alarm clocks, but I couldn’t say much more about it, because I, just like the characters on-screen, kept drifting into dreams and getting woken by the bells.
On the whole, I’d say a 7 hour overnight shift of The Clock is probably too much for a single sitting, but if my experience of the late night and early morning hours is a little woozy, that seems entirely appropriate to the material. Some people came into the screening room around 4 a.m., and I think they had been drinking. That might be even more appropriate. I wonder if they remember any of what they saw?
When I left I felt giddy. As I walked toward downtown, there were all these people in t-shirts (the temperature was close to freezing), going in and out of buildings. Other people were cheering them. I asked one of the cheering guys what was going on, and he explained that people were climbing the CN tower. He asked me jokingly if I wanted to try. I said no, and he started cheering some sweaty people who must have just finished the climb