Installation – “The Clock”: the only film in the world capable of telling the time


In Geneva, the Plaza cinema is hosting an extraordinary work: a 24-hour video montage consisting only of extracts from films where the time is indicated.

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The installation is completed by a palette of spacious white sofas, arranged in front of the screen, so that spectators can enter and leave without disturbing others.

The installation is completed by a palette of spacious white sofas, arranged in front of the screen, so that spectators can enter and leave without disturbing others.

Christian Marclay. Courtesy WhiteCube London

Christian Marclay. Courtesy WhiteCube London
Christian Marclay. Courtesy WhiteCube London

This is a first in Geneva… Since his Golden Lion obtained at the Venice Biennale in 2011, “The Clock”, a video installation by the Swiss-American artist Christian Marclay, had been briefly presented in Zurich but never yet. in Romandie. In his defense, it should be noted that its programming is not easy. And for good reason: “The Clock” (to be seen at the Plaza cinema until July 18) is a video montage lasting 24 hours, made up of thousands of extracts from films during which we see a watch, a clock or any other indication – visual or verbal – of a specific time. Each of these sequences being edited to span the 1440 minutes of a full day. And since the projection is synchronized with the real time, when Claudia Cardinale’s pocket watch, for example, on the station platform of “Once Upon a Time in the West”, displays 10:10, it is really 10:10 am in the room …

We thus find many cult sequences, from the fight of the sheriff of Hadleyville in “The train will whistle three times”, at the stroke of noon, to the monologue of Christopher Walken in “Pulp Fiction”, around the watch of Bruce Willis. inherited from his father. By way of the alarm clock (s) of Bill Murray in “Un jour sans fin”, at 6 o’clock sharp, or the return to the future of Marty McFly, at 22 h 04, at the end of the first part of the trilogy. We will also find a lot of little-known feature films there, mainly American, but also French, German, Japanese, Chinese… And then lots of pelloches that we thought we had forgotten. Enough to give cinephiles the leisure to have fun recognizing as many actors as possible, or even the films themselves.

A procession of stars … of watchmaking

Because “The Clock” obviously displays the most prestigious cast in the history of cinema. There are Tom Cruise, Angelina Jolie, Catherine Deneuve, Jack Nicholson, Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, Sandra Bullock, Morgan Freeman, Keira Knightley, Liv Ullmann, Marlon Brando, Moritz Bleibtreu, Yves Montand, Johnny Depp, Tony Leung Chiu Wai … And so many others. Even if in the end it is Rolex, Casio, Timex or Omega – and especially Big Ben – who steal the show.

Obviously, this work is not designed to be viewed in one go. On screen, no story or plot to follow. “It’s a piece that we bring to life ourselves,” explains Christian Marclay. We decide when it begins by entering the room and it ends when we leave it. And it resumes if we come back to it… We can thus go about our business and our appointments quietly, without altering the project… ”. To facilitate comings and goings, the entrance is free and the installation is completed by a range of spacious white sofas, arranged in front of the screen, so as to allow spectators to enter and exit without disturbing the visitors. other.

What is fascinating is that depending on the time slot chosen, the atmosphere can be completely different on the screen. In the morning, people have breakfast, before heading off to work; at the stroke of 7 p.m., most of them are having dinner; around midnight reigns a rather crazy excitement – it is not called “the hour of the crime” for nothing; and from 3 am, the scenes mainly take place in bed: the characters have insomnia, make love, are woken up for obscure reasons or have strange dreams… And then, at 4:55 am the first awakening. Five minutes later, it’s already as if the whole planet got out of bed to go to work, or go about its business … As in real life, after all. It is at this level that the work touches the sublime: by recreating somewhere the disturbing experience of a full day, with its own changes of rhythms. Not to mention that the longer you stay there, the more the show becomes hypnotic: immersive and bewitching astonishment. Ultimately, it is our own perception of time that the film questions us. With its minutes – even those seconds – stretching across the screen, time somehow turns into a physical, palpable sensation.

Studies in Geneva

Born in the United States in 1955, of an American mother and a Swiss father, Christian Marclay grew up in Geneva, where his parents moved after living in California, and he was trained at the École supérieure d’arts visuels ( today the HEAD). Head for Boston, then, where he joined the Massachusetts College of Arts, before moving, in the 70s, towards music, starting to grind the sounds of a turntable and a vinyl. He will make it the raw material of his work, through collages and performances.

Christian Marclay.
Christian Marclay. Courtesy WhiteCube London

At the origin of “The Clock”, there is moreover a musical work. “I was working in New York on a video montage made up of excerpts to inspire musicians playing live,” he explains. And I wanted to find a way to mark the time on the screen. I then had the idea of ​​looking for film sequences where you could see a representation of that time and I realized that there were a lot of them. It was then that I asked myself this question: would it be possible to find all the minutes of a whole day? ”. He then hired a handful of assistants to whom he gave the mission to scour one of the great video clubs in London (where he has lived since) – it was then in 2007 – in order to find all the possible sequences for him. To one, he attributes the westerns, to the other the comedies… “It went rather well, except with one of them who systematically brought me very violent scenes, which did not include any. reference to time, continues the artist, bursting out laughing… It really scared me and it didn’t take long ”.

Christian Marclay is not a die-hard cinephile, admits to watching films only occasionally and admits having relied entirely on the work of his assistants for the selection of sequences. “I put each of them on a timeline and my job was to do the editing. That was the real challenge: we had to find links between the sequences, bridges between these dissociated fragments, create visual or sound elements to link them in one way or another… ”. From this point of view, the work is remarkable. Actresses and actors respond naturally from one film to another, by voice or by glance, despite the decades that often separate them in reality.

The return of the Plaza

During this screening, the event will above all make it possible to revive the Plaza before its complete renovation (opening scheduled for 2024). The legendary room closed its doors in 2004, before being classified after a long legal battle and today – stripped of its rows of seats – it constitutes the ideal setting for this screening. “I am delighted to show my installation in a place where I saw lots of films when I was a child. Probably, moreover, a good number of which I have selected extracts. I am all the more happy for this because I do not in principle show my play in cinemas. A cinema is a place where we all enter together, en masse, and from which we come out in the same way, at a given time. While there, we are free to enter and exit when we want. And in the narrow rows of seats in a classic cinema, people would be too disturbed by the passage. That’s why I insist on the sofa system. And above all, “The Clock” is not a film, it’s an experience. In the cinema, we sit down and forget everything, carried away by history. And when the room comes back on, we come back to reality. There, it is quite the opposite: with this timing permanently displayed, we are always aware of the time it is, when we entered, how much time we devote to the work … would never have made this movie at 20. I started it when I was 50 years old, when I was much more aware of this time limit and death is very present there. “The Clock” is a memento mori that gives viewers time to reflect on the passage of time, on their own mortality. For some, it can even be disturbing ”.

“The Clock” is at see at the Plaza cinema, in Geneva, until July 18. Wednesday and Thursday from 12 p.m. to 10 p.m. Non-stop from Friday 12 p.m. to Sunday 10 p.m.

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