Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Clock

Imagine if Girl Talk's Greg Gillis, the "Maestro of the Mashup", applied his superhuman ability to films, dovetailing and rearranging clips to create a massive tribute to cinema. Now imagine that instead of making it the length of a typical LP (40 minutes or so), it was 24 hours long, and instead of a few hundred samples, it featured 10,000 (roughly) snippets meticulously threaded together. You would probably call this a staggeringly ambitious project. Now what if I told you that the entire "mashup", takes place in real time; that is, when your watch strikes 4, the clocks on the screen also strike four. When you start to get hungry around 6:37, the clips on the screen show people sitting down to dinner at precisely 6:37. That is what you can expect when you pull up a seat to watch Christian Marclay's "The Clock" at the MFA.

Perhaps I'm not explaining it well. Take a minute to view this clip to get a better idea of the incredible detail of this piece. And believe me when I say that the clip is woefully inadequate at expressing what makes the project so enthralling. Simply stitching the clips together would be a gargantuan effort, but Marclay was not satisfied with this simplistic endeavor. He constantly teases at certain scenes, just as a master DJ plays a tiny piece of a pop song minutes before he segues into it. While I watched it from 5:30 to 7 tonight, I was first confused when he showed Napoleon Dynamite in a van for no apparent reason, only to feel foolish 15 minutes later when Napoleon stood in a field looking at his watch waiting for Pedro to pull up. Certain films, like 1960's "The Time Machine" are the perfect tongue-in-cheek material, yet manage to pop up several times on their own merits, as George demonstrates the instrument to his friends over the course of a meeting.

The entire piece works on so many levels, it's a wonder no one had ever thought of it before. You can play "Name that Movie" with friends as films gallop by, you can sit back and enjoy as legend after legend flickers upon the screen (in my 90 minute session I saw nearly every movie star in film history*), or you can treat it like an actual film, as there is real drama and comedy in the film pairings and chosen scenes. People walking out of frame in one scene will be matched with people walking into a room in another. A knock at the door in one film will be answered in the next. When the clock nears the top of the hour, the loud music swells and the clips take on the gravitas that films usually do when time is running out for our hero. And of course, the complete work itself is an astute commentary on time and how we are both enslaved and liberated by it. It will inevitably mean different things to every person, but its net effect will be no less profound.

This blog post has gone on much longer than I expected, but such is my enthusiasm for this effort. If you have a chance to see it at the MFA, please do so before it leaves the city on December 31st. You won't regret it.

* Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks, Jack Nicholson, Johnny Depp, Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Sean Penn, Robert Deniro, Meryl Streep, Bruce Willis, Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman, Humphrey Bogart, Orson Welles, etc

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