The Clock at SFMOMA

You’ve probably heard about The Clock, a current exhibit at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art that is, effectively speaking, a 24-hour-long movie. I caught a tiny slice of it on Thursday. (And no, you don’t have to see it from beginning to end.)

Created by Christian Marclay, The Clock is a masterpiece of editing–a collection of clips from thousands of narrative features. There’s no story, of course, but the scenesimage melt into each other, sometimes seamlessly, and other times as comic commentary on each other. Someone picks up a phone and dials, then someone else-in an entirely different film, answers. That sort of thing gets the laugh that Marclay intended, but few in the audience notice the times he cuts smoothly between two shots with similar movements.

It’s all about time. Many of the shots have a clock in them. In others, someone looks at their watch and tells someone else the time. Occasionally, the time connection isn’t obvious.

The time on screen is always the accurate time for the people in the audience. I was there at 5:00pm, and was treated to a montage of people leaving work.

I arrived at SFMOMA Thursday at about 2:00, figuring that the long lines I’d heard about couldn’t be too bad on a weekday afternoon. I was wrong. It was nearly 3:30 before I was able to enter. (Once you enter, you can stay as long as you like, making the speed of the line very unpredictable.)

Once I was comfortably in my seat, I was caught…and hypnotized. A large part of the imagefun was trying to identify the films. Some were obvious (Casablanca), some I kind of guessed (that had to be from The Man Who Wasn’t There). Most I had no idea about, and many left me curious. In what film did  Patricia Hitchcock play a teacher? How will that mad scientist shrink all the evil people in the world to a third their size? And what British movie contained that very funny sex scene?

I went in knowing I had to leave by 5:00. I left at 5:15. I had, of course, no trouble keeping track of the time as I watched.

I would love to see more of it, but I doubt I’ll be able to do so. I’m particularly curious about the wee hours of the morning. How many film clips can you find set around 3:00am?

The Clock plays through June 2, whenever the museum is open. In addition, there are around-the-clock screenings both of these coming weekends.