In ‘The Clock,’ You Always Know the Time []



Damon Winter/The New York Times

Scenes from Christian Marclay’s video installation at the David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center.

It’s a bad habit, I know — or maybe a professional vice as a film critic — but at some point during a movie I always check my watch. I also make sure to know, going in, just how long the movie will last. These may serve as reminders that whatever I’m seeing is only a movie.       

Damon Winter/The New York Times

Viewers dip in and out of “The Clock,” running in the David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center until Aug. 1.                           

Time is basic to the particular illusion that cinema creates. With the exception of an occasional stunt like “High Noon” or “Russian Ark,” a film’s running time will not correspond to its narrative span. Decades can pass within the space of a few hours; irrelevant stretches can be pruned away and crucial seconds slowed down. It did not take long for the early film pioneers to figure out that they could jump forward, backward or sideways. And it has always been obvious to spectators that the time up there on screen is not the same as the time down here in the seats. One reason to go to the movies is to escape the tyranny of the clock.       

The Clock,” an installation at the David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center until Aug. 1, at once celebrates those illusions and explodes them. Concocted by the Swiss video and sound artist Christian Marclay, “The Clock” is a beguiling dream of eternal cinema and also a startling wake-up call, the most literal-minded and also the most abstract use of the medium you can imagine. No need to check your watch or discreetly illuminate your cellphone: the clocks, watches and conversations on screen will tell you the time, with unfailing accuracy. And unlike any movie you have ever seen — even though it is composed of nearly every movie you have seen, and then some — this cinematic object has no beginning or end. At midnight the numbers turn over and it starts again.       

Because of certain practical limitations, “The Clock,” first shown in New York at the Paula Cooper Gallery in 2011, will run continuously only from Friday morning to Sunday night; from Tuesday to Thursday, it can be viewed from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. After waiting in line, you are ushered into a darkened room where you can sit for as long as you like. And of course you will know exactly how long that is.


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