When Christian Marclay's The Clock, a 24-hour film mash-up that strings together clips of ticking timepieces, screened at New York's Paula Cooper Gallery this past February, lines stretched down 21st Street. People waited in the cold for hours to get a glimpse. Before that, it screened in London, where the White Cube gallery stayed open -- and full -- until 2:30 in the morning.
Now it's our turn to see if the film holds sway. The marathon movie began its first-ever West Coast run at LACMA this morning at 11 a.m., and continues uninterrupted until 11 a.m. tomorrow. After that, you can see the work in LACMA's galleries, since the museum now owns it, but not through the night.
The film splices together shots of watches and clocks from blockbuster films, noir thrillers, television, silent slapstick and foreign features, so that viewers actually see each minute tick by. Not even Marclay, a Swiss American artist known for ambitious remixes of music and movies, has seen it through from beginning to end.
It sounds arduous, but, according to the fair number of New Yorkers and Londoners who've seen it, it's not. Watching Harry Potter's Daniel Radcliffe try to catch the train, Bill Murray's face fall into that "I give up" frown from Groundhog Day or Sophia Loren breakfast in a bright yellow bathrobe, all while one minute moves on to the next onscreen and off, has left people wanting more.
No lines stretched down the street when the film began at LACMA, but the Bing Theater was well-populated by guests who definitely weren't all museum staffers or gallerinas (though, granted, a number of art insiders are here too). Right now, I'm sitting in LACMA's café, three tables away from a grandmother who exclaimed, "It's incredible," after she and what appears to be her doting teenage grandson snuck out around 11:50 a.m. Near the grandma, two women I'd peg as artists are lunching while trying to decide whether to come back again later to see more.
It's rare that a single work of art by a single artist piques this much interest, and the examples I can think of off-hand -- Picasso's Guernica, Jeff Koons' Puppy, Banksy's painted elephant -- have been more political or spectacular and far less drawn out. Still, New York critics Ben Davis and Roberta Smith called The Clock a crowd pleaser, though the former never stood in line long enough to see it and the latter suspected film buffs might find some of Marclay's liberal cutting and pasting cringe-worthy.
I think "crowd pleaser" is accurate, in the best sort of way. After the hour and a half I've seen, I feel sort of giddy, the way you do after a pull-the-heart-strings film like When Harry Met Sally, and there were plenty of giggles and grunts from audience members when certain shots hit the spot. One of my favorites hit at 11:55 a.m., when a young Charlie Sheen in Wall Street slicked his hair back, looked in the mirror, and said, "Life all comes down to a few moments. This is one of them."
Of course, the moments of The Clock kept coming, and they've only just gotten started. The theater will likely fill up as the work day winds down, and rumor has it The Clock brings on goose bumps at midnight. The Bing Theater is a less-than-perfect venue -- already I had a woman almost sit on me because her eyes hadn't adjusted to the dark, and the leaving and coming gets distracting. But I'm hoping to see a crowd tonight. A full house of enthusiastic, tired people literally watching time pass sounds like an endearingly quirky, once-in-a-blue-moon experience. I'll let you know how it goes.