Watching the Clock


By: David Stokes

Watching the clock

The Clock, created by collage artist Christian Marclay, is a 24-hour movie that tells time using film clips. Example: when it’s 3:23 pm in Toronto, the clip on-screen will somehow reference 3:23 pm. It took Marclay and a team of six assistants three years of work to create The Clock. Massively popular in New York and London, it is running (free of charge) until November 25 at the Power Plant, and includes a series of 24 hour marathons so the work can be experienced in its entirety. This reporter spent the better part of a day watching it.

Imagine asking a stranger for the time. Now do that about nine times a minute for every minute in a 24-hour day. Now imagine that all those strangers are actors from films. That begins to introduce the strange obsessional world of The Clock. For in this odyssey, the viewer will cover a lot of ground and will see a lot of faces, clock-faces and otherwise. You will see the exact time as Denzel Washington defuses a bomb. You’ll get the exact time from Peter Sellars. At 1:17pm Sean Penn will try and pawn a watch that reads 1:17pm.

Initially, The Clock’s thrill comes simply in recognizing the actors and the movies used, and being curious about the faces and films that you can’t place. But within minutes the relentless pacing of the movie puts you in a trance; it’s an encounter with a powerful hypnotic force.

For you aren’t merely getting the time, but are witnessing something infinitely more complex and affecting. The viewer watches people become physically affected by time, and how the awareness of time takes hold of people, changing them. Panic seizes some faces. Others are deathly bored. You witness the toll that time takes over and over again, unflaggingly, at every instant, for 24 hours.

The time shown during many scenes in movies is an illusion, part of the background set. But The Clock takes this staged fictional time and shoves it in its truthful slot of the day. And if movies are meant to transport us out of our time, The Clock does the opposite. You feel time creeping over your body; time takes over your mind as you are continually presented with the fact of your life escaping.

The Clock is a memento mori for every moment. Just when you begin to enjoy a clip from a movie you love, the scene changes. The actors themselves become clocks: we see them in different stages of their careers, their body’s growing older. Many scenes feature older men in despair after younger women; in equal amounts, young women look pensively at themselves in the mirror.

But the movie isn’t all bleak. In fact it’s often funny and joyously exciting. For in seeing such an incredible diversity of events and faces, we realize: anything can happen any time! Time is endless variation along an identical structural principle. For when can’t you fall in love? Find laughter? Do something good? Life may be short but each moment can be overwhelming, pregnant with character, personality, drama, and surprise. While you will know the time, it’s impossible to predict what the next clip will be about.

Such is life. While I was watching, late at night (from 1:00 am to 3:00 am sex scenes and dream sequences become prominent motifs), my dad texted me and asked if I wanted to fly to Miami with him–in three hours–at 6am. Out of the blue my world had changed. I suddenly didn’t have time to watch The Clock.

This article was originally published on our old website at