The proverb “Time waits for no man” has never seemed more poignant than in the face of “Christian Marclay: The Clock” — an unnervingly spellbinding, 24-hour cinematic opus.
Marclay’s video montage, on view at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art through June 2, uses thousands of film clips to show all 1,440 minutes in the day, each minute visually represented by a timepiece in the film: a clock, watch, sundial, etc. Despite the dizzying number of clips, it becomes one singular, very shrewd film.
Viewable on couches during regular museum hours, “The Clock” also may be seen at special 24-hour Saturday screenings from May 4 through June 2.
It’s also an appropriate countdown for the SFMOMA, which closes June 3 for its expansion project by global architectural superstars Snøhetta. While the museum offers a host of remote programming in the interim, the main building won’t reopen until 2016.
“The Clock” syncs with real time, so if it’s 11:40 a.m. for James Bond, it’s 11:40 a.m. for the viewer, too. Multiple films are often used within a 60-second span. For example, 1:15 p.m. could start with a 1990s romantic comedy, and 1:16 p.m. arrives some half-dozen clips and actors later.
If it all sounds hypnotic and addictive, that’s because it is.
Marclay’s asymmetrical editing warps time, making some minutes feel like a thousand lifetimes, while others sink into a still, suspended eternity, such as Marclay’s ingenious, timepiece-free insert of Laurence Olivier as Hamlet.
Film buffs will have a field day identifying actors and films.
Senses heighten as “The Clock” marches towards noon. Cowboys grab guns, lovers argue and gangsters and gamblers get punchy. The human relationship to time itself is potently apparent. Watches and clocks are eyed with concern, distress, solemnity, excitement and, in the case of schoolchildren and retail workers, pure boredom.
Marclay uses the original sound and dialogue to comic effect, but also imposes soundtracks. As “The Clock” approaches noon, a pulsating techno beat carries across clips, falsifying acceleration and heightening suspense.
“The Clock” debuted at London’s White Cube Gallery in 2010. Marclay, a video and sound artist who was born in San Rafael and lives in London and New York, spent three years compiling and editing, a short time for such a clever assemblage.
In one transition, Meryl Streep’s striptease for a randy Alec Baldwin ends with a shot of her robe at her feet and cuts to a loaded gun from another film; Marclay’s visual pun is made clear. A door opens in one film and closes in another, each metamorphosis a miniature masterpiece.
These surreal segues are Marclay’s real triumph. Synthesizing image and sound with wit and grace, he leaves the viewer giddy, delightfully bewildered and panting for more.
Eerily cohesive, “The Clock” sucks the viewer into its churning vortex, an epic fantasy that hinges, ironically, on the truth of time.