The Clock, Part 5: Sunrise

Christian Marclay’s The Clock (2010) is an ambitious 24-hour montage stitched together from feature films and TV shows. Each clip, ranging from a split second to a few minutes, takes place during the time of the day at which it plays. Over the next few months, I will attempt to see all twenty-four hours at the Tate Modern in London, documenting the experience in a way as haphazard as the fractured experience of watching the work itself.

Rosy-fingered Dawn

Part 5 of this series. I wrote this article after viewing 6:02–10:18 (4 hours, 16 minutes) on 2 December 2018. Seen: 15 hours 13 minutes. Remaining: 8 hours 47 minutes.

Read Part 1: Introduction, in which I discuss my initial excitement about the return of The Clock.

Read Part 2: Matineé in which I reflect on familiarity, recognition, tension, time’s passage, simultaneity, and death.

Read Part 3: Graveyard Shift in which I stay up all night and misidentify noir.

Read Part 4: Interstice in which I ponder the expectations set by Hollywood continuity style.


The 2nd of December 2018 marked what I thought was my final opportunity to see the nocturnal hours of The Clock, at least in its current run in London—now, due to popular demand, you can also see it this weekend.

At the start of November I had stayed overnight until 5:35am, so I needed to arrive before that time. So on a cold Sunday morning, at the beginning of December, I dutifully awoke at 3:52, just as one of my flatmates was returning from a night out. I filled a flask with coffee and walked down to the Tate, since my normal transport to the Tate Modern (the 4 bus) doesn’t run at night. The walk was beautiful and surreal. I arrived at 5:03am.

St Paul's Cathedral at night
St Paul’s Cathedral on my walk down, at around 5 am.

I had once again underestimated demand. There was an hour-long queue. Wishing to pass the time, and exploiting the expectations set by my American accent, I wilfully transgressed British social protocol and met a man in the queue. He was not much of a film buff, but a very big Christian Marclay fan. He knew the artist’s early work well, had seen him DJ, attended retrospectives, and so on. This surprised me; I had foolishly assumed that the The Clock would mainly have drawn die-hard fans of film, like me, at least to the overnight viewings. The idea of die-hard art fans, like him, had not occurred to me. He too had expected to be able to walk straight in, and was surprised to find an inconvenient crowd waiting. His friend, who was working the door, had told him that normally after 4 am there was no queue. That had been my experience last time: after 4, and certainly by the time I left after 5, there was no queue at all.

We therefore entered at 6:02 a.m., just after a large contingent left. Walking in, when I saw the screen I smiled, as Ethan Hawke proclaimed something dramatic to the dawn in Before Sunrise (1995). I separated silently from my queue compatriot, since we would not in any case have been able to sit together, nor could we in conscience have communicated. But more importantly I wished to get a seat as close to the front as possible, in which I might write by the light of the screen. This wasn’t necessary at first, because (strangely) all the lights were on. I wondered whether they had turned them on at the hour to let people leave, or whether they would stay on all morning. Or perhaps they’d done it to spot the sleepers in the crowd? I got a reasonably good seat on the left side.

Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy gaze at each other in Vienna, Before Sunrise
The scene I walked into, at dawn: Vienna, in Before Sunrise (1995).

Just afterwards, Nicholas Cage asked, in Bringing out the Dead (1999): “Are you gonna tell the family?” Robin Williams woke up at 6:06, in One Hour Photo (2002). At 6:07, a girl in a prom dress awoke on a football field. It might have been The Virgin Suicides (1999), but I think it could also have been from the end of Brick (2005), a great neo-noir high school film that was also featured in the afternoon and evening. I was generally doubtful that morning about what I was seeing. At 6:08, Tom Waits appeared, in what must have been Down by Law (1986)—or could it have been Short Cuts (1993)? I can’t tell from my notes.

The lights turned off at 6:11, and were not turned back on. I never discovered why we had been illuminated. I was half-relieved to have descended into darkness, though it meant that it was very difficult to see what I was writing, as I was farther away from the screen than I’d been on prior visits. I stayed where I was, and Anne Hathaway and Emily Blunt spoke on the phone about coffee, at 6:16, in a film I’ve not seen but nonetheless recognised: The Devil Wears Prada (2006).

I drank coffee of my own, and yawned through the dawn, without recognising much. At 6:23, there was some very old surrealist scene that I thought it might be from L’age d’Or (1930), the lesser-known cousin of the equally bizarre Un chien andalou (1929), also a Buñuel/Dalí collaboration. At 6:31, I wrote “Jolie child murder”, and the wiki confirms that it’s from Changeling (2008). At 6:33, the twitching mustachios of a sleeping man, too waxed and curled to be anyone other than Hook (1991). It was a film from my childhood that I remember seeing in theatres, as well as endlessly on VHS as my siblings matured. At 7am, it was another film I remember being excited to see in theatres at a young age: Doc’s automatic breakfast machine from Back to the Future III (1990).

One minute later I spotted Willem Dafoe, in what might possibly have been The Boondock Saints (1990). Shortly thereafter followed two 1970s bedroom scenes. One was a Swedish scene from a marriage, from, you guessed it, Scenes from a Marriage (1973), which documents the heartbreaking disintegration of the union over 2 hours 47 minutes (in the theatrical version) or, as I saw it at university, 4 hours 41 minutes (the television version), in a class I took on the films of Ingmar Bergman and Alfred Hitchcock. The scene must have been from early in the film, and early in the marriage, as the couple was in a good mood. Shortly thereafter, as if by association, another bedroom scene amidst a marital collapse, likewise lighthearted: JoBeth Williams looks for the bathroom, nearly walks first into Dustin Hoffman’s closet, then into his hallway, naked, and shocked to encounter his child, in Kramer vs Kramer (1979). At 7:03, Christian Bale very much finds the bathroom, walking into his ludicrously huge shower, bedecked with beauty products, in another film that was recognisable though I haven’t seen it: American Psycho (2000).

At 7:09, Marlon Brando stands against a tide of dockworkers in a strikebreaking scene in On the Waterfront (1954), but at 7:11, we’re back to another bathroom scene: Catherine Deneuve is having a deeply concerning breakdown in her bathroom, smelling what I think was a man’s shirt, in Polanski’s Repulsion (1965). The Clock lingers on her for a long time. This completed, for me, Polanski’s apartment trilogy: I’d already spotted The Tenant (1976) at 1:14 am and Rosemary’s Baby (1968) at 2:52 am. Given the trilogy’s harrowing meditation on alienation, it would be an extremely bleak triple feature to deliberately undertake on one’s own overnight; in the context of The Clock, it seems almost an artistic act of aggression.

Robin Williams adjusting his tie in the mirror underneath a sign reading "Check your smile."
Williams’ in(tro)spection.

At 7:17, another French femme appears, doing the exact opposite of the agoraphobic Deneuve: Danielle Darrieux grandly exits her magnificent home in The Earrings of Madame de… (1953), in director Max Ophuls’ unmistakably opulent style. Darrieux too, however, catches her look in the mirror. At 7:42, in the presciently dark One Hour Photo (2002), Robin Williams looks at his reflection in quiet desperation, clashing with the huge “Check Your Smile!” sign above the mirror.

At 7:45, Kyle MacLachlan asks “How long have I been out?”as the ever-punctual Agent Cooper in Twin Peaks. Another disturbing work scene follows at 7:48: Gene Hackman is setting up his telescope and spying equipment in The Conversation. The tone changes drastically a minute later, as we’re back to the Wild West in Back to the Future III: “In about ten minutes he’ll be as sober as a priest on Sunday!”

Montage à trois

During the morning hours, I was struck by the use of montage, in which similar scenes appear across two, three, or even more films. At 7:51 several factories were shown in succession, with workers making textiles, machines filling milk bottles, and light bulbs stacking up. At 8:25, there were three or four different train-boarding scenes in a row. At 8:56, there was a punch-card montage, with people arriving in time to start work at 9 o’clock. Characters in various states of suffering began to lament their hangovers at 9:21, with one saying “Never, never, never again!” A few shots of children writing essays and taking tests started at 9:41. A few minutes later, at 9:45: “Fuck!” someone shouted, amidst a montage of people running late in the morning. At 9:54, several office scenes appeared, with coffee breaks, people filing papers, and office drones generally trying not to look too idle. At 10:03, there were shots of people stuck in traffic and driving. Montages surely occur at other times of the day; in the afternoon, I noted the joyous montage of children worldwide making their final-bell exodus. But the morning seemed to include a higher percentage of these conceptually linked sequences.

Ian Holm stands next to a sign reading M. Kurtzmann.
About to check his pocket-watch…

At 8 on the dot: “Posts everyone!” In a scene I remember vividly from my childhood, the staff of Mr. Banks’ house prepares for the daily 8am cannonade in Mary Poppins (1964). This American musical shaped my childhood vision of Britain; I wasn’t to visit until my twenties, but now I’ve been in Britain for over a decade. Three minutes later, it is followed by the equally iconic, un-Disneyfied, more dignified, but brutally bureaucratic reality of Britain: the absurdly long tracking shot down the bustling office, with Ian Holm next to an “M. Kurtzmann” sign at the end of the enormous hallway, with the titular music building orchestrally to a silence that makes one want to sing the refrain… “Brazil!” (1985). No other film, in my opinion, so well captures the contradictions of Britain. It is certainly more accurate than Mary Poppins.

You smell that?

At 8:09am came what is likely the most famous scene of the morning: “I love the smell of napalm in the morning!” from Apocalypse Now (1979). Just afterwards, at 8:15, I wrote that I was getting impatient, only halfway through my four hour sojourn. At 8:17, Samuel L. Jackson is trying to placate a very angry Tarantino in Pulp Fiction (1994):

“Goddamn Jimmie, this is some serious gourmet shit. Me an’ Vincent been satisfied with freeze-dried Tasters Choice. You spring this gourmet fuckin’ shit on us. What flavor is this?”

Tarantino launches into his “fuckin’ divorced” response. But as I recall The Clock cut out all of the N-bombs.

Steve Martin and John Candy cuddle in a hotel bed, then freak out as they wake up at 8:21, in a scene from Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987). The scene is still funny, though it would probably be considered too homophobic to make the cut today. Four minutes later, Marty McFly is late for school in Back to the Future.

Around this time I began to note actors who appeared frequently. I couldn’t always place the films, but here are the names I wrote: Lee Van Cleef. Jack Nicholson. Hugh Grant. John Cleese. Jeremy Irons. Both Philip Seymour and Dustin Hoffman. Michaels Douglas, Caine, and Keaton. George C. Scott. Steve Martin. Johnny Depp. Tom Cruise. Simon Pegg. Robert De Niro. Roy Scheider.

Speaking of Scheider, I was disappointed not to see the morning sequence from one of my favourite films, All That Jazz (1979), featured. You know, the one where Scheider absent-mindedly smokes a cigarette in the shower, says “To be on the wire is life. The rest is waiting.” to Jessica Lange, playing a beautiful version of Death, then says to his reflection, wide-eyed: “It’s showtime, folks!” Sadly, it has no clocks. It’s also not as long or as dramatic as I remembered it, but I still think it must have been an influence on the montages of Requiem for a Dream (2000).

In a scene from the other end of the 70s, at 8:38 Jack Nicholson jumps on the back of a truck, to play a piano in traffic, in Five Easy Pieces (1970). The Clock returns to him at 9:06, in what is possibly the film’s most famous scene: “Only what’s on the menu!” It cuts as the waitress walks off, before Nicholson can deliver his famous line. I won’t quote it here, as either you know it, or it will make no sense out of context (watch it here).

A waitress asks Jack Nicholson for his order in Five Easy Pieces
“Only what’s on the menu!”

At 8:42 was a film I’ve not seen, with an impressive shot of an enormous room full of typists sitting before Remington typewriters: Jeremy Irons as Kafka (1991). At 8:49, I wrote that there was a hideous yawn in the recurring What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), presumably Bette Davis in her pancake makeup. I was getting tired myself, and probably didn’t look much better. At 8:54, Dan Akroyd was awaiting the stock market opening in Trading Places (1983). Both the guard at the front and the guy sat next to me on the couch were snoring.

At 8:57, there was a TV news ticker saying something about “District 9,” which confused me as I was sure District 9 had come out fairly recently, certainly after 2010, when The Clock was made—but in fact it had come out in 2009! This gave me a strange feeling of having time travelled.

9am, I noted, was much more hectic than 7 or 8. I didn’t recognise many films, but the wiki informs me that Addams Family (1991), Cagney in One, Two, Three (1961), Trading Places (1983), Clockwise (1986), and The Getaway (1972) were featured. I remember being traumatised, as a child, by a suicide in the mediocre remake of The Getaway with Kim Basinger and Alec Baldwin (1994); it wasn’t until 2011 that I got round to watching the original 1972 Steve McQueen film, but by then I thought it was great.

At 9:05, James Mason watches Lolita through a window (1961). I wouldn’t have recognised this had I not been looking up films in the meantime, which appeared when I went at night. At 9:38, there was a Mark Ruffalo interrogation scene in the disturbing-but-great Zodiac.

Zodiac is a pretty good movie.

At 9:45am, there’s the spying scene from Chinatown (1974): “Guess he was up all night!” Although I had seen Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) many times as a child, I obviously did not see Chinatown until much later, so I could not have understood that it spoofs the photographed affair scene until I watched Roger Rabbit again as an adult. If you’re a similar age to me (i.e., old enough to have seen films in 1988, but too young to have seen them in 1974), it’s worth watching Roger Rabbit, as it’s pretty funny and disturbing to spoof that scene in a cartoon.

At 9:50, it was Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995): Jeremy Irons tells Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson that they have 30 minutes to get 90 blocks south to stop a bomb from going off. By this point I was very sleepy, but I resolved to stay as long as I could after 10am. At 10:09, Claudia Cardinale looks at a pocketwatch, in her somehow dissonant western outfit in Once Upon a Time in the West. Because she’s so iconic in her two Italian 1963 roles, namely 8 ½ and The Leopard (isn’t it strange they came out the same year?), I never fail to find her appearance jarring, in the wild west, in Once Upon a Time (1968)—or worse, in the Amazon, in Fitzcarraldo (1982).

Claudia, I’m as concerned as you are that you’re in this film.

At 10:10am, there’s a fast montage, with Laura (1944), Les diaboliques (1955), and Twin Peaks, with Kyle MacLachlan saying to David Lynch: “Gordon! It’s 10:10am!”

At 10:15am, someone said “Now this is very good cognac!” “It’s 10:15!”

At this point, I started thinking about the lack of weeks and seasons; a weekday could be intercut by a weekend, or summer by winter. It makes a horizontal cut across days. This could mean, depending on where on earth the shot was shot, day could more or less intercut night, since 5pm could be very dark near the poles and very bright near the equator.

I’ve left this post too long, so I’ll leave it there, as I’ll probably go see a few more hours tonight. If you’re in London, this is your last chance to see the overnight twelve hours, and the whole exhibit finishes on 20th January!

Post a comment

You may use the following HTML:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Loading Facebook Comments ...

No Trackbacks.