Flavorpill last week published a hypnotic video essay titled “135 Shots That Will Restore Your Faith in Cinema.” This nearly eight-minute montage combines some of the most breathtaking scenes from a selection of 86 films, including Miramax titles No Country For Old Men, Hero, Amelie, and There Will Be Blood. It may be easy, at first glance, to dismiss this clip as yet another “super cut” — a video mashup oriented around a singular theme — but to do so would be to ignore the editorial intelligence at work here. Each shot flows seamlessly into another, with the entire sequence held together not by recurring catch phrases or gimmicks, but by aesthetic, pure and simple.
The essay is similar in structure to Christian Marclay’s The Clock – a sprawling, 24-hour video installation that combines scenes from a seemingly countless number of films. The glue underpinning this work, however, is notably more complex; each shot features either an image of a clock face, or explicit reference to a given time, with every sequence arranged chronologically in real-time. Visitors attending the exhibition at 6:37 PM, for example, would likely see a series of dinner scenes from various films, with every onscreen clock calibrated to that precise minute. The footage begins rolling at midnight, and continues for 24 hours without a single repeated shot.
The effect can be bewildering at first; The Clock‘s intrinsically halting cadence allows the viewer to get sucked into some scenes, before abruptly transitioning into others. Before long, though, an order and a rhythm emerge, locking the audience into a strange, almost fugue-like trance. Here’s how New York Times critic A.O. Scott described the experience in an article published last week.
To say that you lose track of time would be absurd, since nearly every shot that does not show a timepiece includes one character asking another for the time. And as the top of a given hour approaches, your awareness becomes more acute: that’s when the bombs go off, the trains depart, the executions take place — all the stuff that has the people on screen anxiously glancing over their shoulders or plucking back the cuffs of their jackets.
Then, all of a sudden, it’s too late. On Sunday evening, when I parked myself in the comfortable, makeshift theater in the atrium, it was 8:10. Up on the screen, patrons at opera houses, theaters and concert halls were settling into their seats, their upturned faces a mirror of our own. There was Hannibal Lecter; there was Woody Allen. And here, as the minutes ticked by, were apologies for the late start. Here, too, were late-ish suppers (Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung tucking in, courtesy of Wong Kar-wai’s “In the Mood for Love”) and early bedtimes (Scout Finch tucked in by Gregory Peck in a lovely scene from “To Kill a Mockingbird.”)
This scrambling of characters’ and performers’ names is a side effect of Mr. Marclay’s cleverly induced cinephile fever. As you watch his deftly shuffled scenes, you can’t help but engage — silently, please! — in a game of visual Name That Tune. This is both stimulating and somewhat enervating. With the wrong friends, a trip to “The Clock” could devolve into an endless film-nerd trivia night.
The Clock will be on display at the David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center in New York until August 1st.