The Clock, Part 3: Graveyard Shift

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.


Part 3 of this series. I wrote this article after viewing 23:23–05:35 (6 hours 12 min) on 4 November 2018. Seen: 10 hours 27 minutes. Remaining: 13 hours 33 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.

It took while to put my thoughts together for the 2 hours and 40 minutes I saw a few weeks ago; last weekend I saw six hours straight, so this has been more than a little intimidating to write. However, I’m glad to have finished most of the night shift.

It looks likely that, when I‘ve watched all I can, I will still have a gap between 22:00 and 23:23. This was due to my misestimation of the demand for the all-night screening. I arrived with two friends at around 10pm, but the queue meant that we had to wait over an hour to enter. I’m fine with this; maybe in years to come I’ll find those lost hours in another city.

Once we made it into the darkened cinema, we stood for a few minutes at the back, before finding a spot to sit on the floor. At first we sat on the left side because the right was quite crowded; we found out why, as almost instantly a guard asked us (along with many others) to clear that aisle as a fire escape. We shuffled in the dark to the floor against the wall near the front right.

Since we’ll be here forever if I try to flesh out every sighting, this time I’m just going to give an unannotated list of films I positively identified, based on my notes as confirmed by the excellent wiki. This time I also “identified” scenes missing from the wiki, a feat which I had not managed during the presumably higher-traffic daytime scenes. Of course, it can be hard to know in retrospect how certain to be about such identifications, bombarded as one is by visions, but I‘ve added those about which I was reasonably confident.

Here’s the list of scenes I recognised, in part because I’m a compulsive list-maker, in part to show the diversity of The Clock, and in part just to get it off my chest:

Pan’s Labyrinth (23:22), The Pit and the Pendulum (23:22), Misery (23:34), An Education (23:35), Taxi Driver (23:41), A Nightmare on Elm Street (23:42), Safe (23:42), In the Mood for Love (23:43), To Catch a Thief (23:51), Mildred Pierce (23:52), Sid and Nancy (23:59), The Stranger (00:00), V for Vendetta (00:00), Camille (00:10), Shanghai Knights (00:12), Repulsion (00:27), Barton Fink (00:31), Rebel without a Cause (00:39), Candyman (00:46), Sixth Sense (00:48), Scenes from a Marriage (00:50), Le cercle rouge (00:57), A Night to Remember (01:53), Rear Window (01:54), La dolce vita (02:00), Planes Trains and Automobiles (02:15), What Time is it There? (02:18), Gremlins (02:20), The Green Mile (02:27), Spellbound (02:32), Gaslight (02:41), Eyes Wide Shut (02:41), Leaving Las Vegas (02:48), Rosemary’s Baby (02:52), Pretty Woman (02:56), Scarface (03:04), Taken (03:18), American Beauty (03:26), Adaptation. (03:32), Awakenings (03:40), Twin Peaks (03:57), Amelie (04:00), Panic Room (04:06), Rififi (04:20), JFK (04:34), Marnie (04:37), Night of the Hunter (04:52), From Russia with Love (04:54), Bob le Flambeur (04:59), Sunset Boulevard (05:02), The Haunting (05:05), Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno (05:08), Sexy Beast (05:10), Kickboxer (05:25), Good Morning, Vietnam (05:25), Brick (05:35), The Servant (05:35)

These I added to the wiki:

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane (23:32), Camille (00:10), Drugstore Cowboy (00:29), The Sixth Sense (00:48), La belle noiseuse (? 00:59), Drugstore Cowboy (02:50), Groundhog Day (? 03:06), Viridiana (03:15), Charlotte Rampling —  Life During Wartime (? 03:52), Alain Delon (04:09), Videodrome (? 04:30), Couple in bed – À ma sœur (04:32), Lee Marvin — Point Blank (04:38), Sexy Beast morning visit (05:10)

Untimely annoyance

On consulting the wiki, I found myself disappointed not to have recognised several films that I have actually seen. Some I couldn’t place; others I got wrong. I was especially annoyed about The Woman in the Window (23:44). “Is that M?” I asked my friend. He hadn’t seen it. I got the director right: Fritz Lang. This annoyed me because not only have I seen The Woman in the Window much more recently than M, but the aforementioned New Yorker piece mentions exactly this moment:

The corpse of one character, Claude Mazard, is discovered, in the sewers, at 11:44pm. The film cuts to a closeup of his pocket watch, monogrammed with the initials “C.M.” Marclay suddenly had his version of a Hitchcock cameo.

Incredibly, the whole film appears to be available on Youtube. I had noticed that certain silent-era films were online, but I’m surprised that so much film noir is as well.

Another frustrating noir moment followed shortly thereafter: I couldn’t place the heartbreaking marriage scene in Nicholas Ray’s They Live By Night (1948), at 11:50pm. I turned to my friend and said: “This is an amazing film but I can’t remember which one!” It was a film I had seen and had liked, but I could not recall it at all; I had to look it up in the wiki later. Many years ago I had read about the film in Pauline Kael’s amazing collection For Keeps. As I recall she wrote about the debt owed to it by Bonnie and Clyde (1967), and I only saw it last year.

I also really struggled to place the cruel moment where James Mason declines to go out with Shelley Winters, at 12:37am. Again, I knew I’d seen it. She’s dressed up, he’s dismissive; it’s from Lolita (1962), which explains his disinterest.

I placed Humphrey Bogart at 1:10am in The Big Sleep (1946), incorrectly, though I did think he looked a bit young… In fact he was five years younger, in the 1941 version of The Maltese Falcon.

Robert Mitchum appeared as Frank in Angel Face (02:40), which I’ve seen, but I couldn’t place him. Mitchum appears often in The Clock, and I kept thinking they were scenes from Out of the Past, but as that’s not listed anywhere in the wiki, I could be wrong. I failed to recognise two more noir films I love, In a Lonely Place and Gilda, both at 5:01am—though to be fair I had started to flag by that point. Overall, it was not a good night for my noir knowledge.


My friends gamely stayed until nearly 1am, at which point they left me with the other nocturnal animals. I was in for a long night. I’ll traverse it from the notes I took.

At 12:53am I wrote: “Still packed. Quite a lot of Steve McQueen.” At 1:10am I took a break. I wasn’t sure whether they would allow me to return without queuing again. The woman at the entrance looked at me expectantly. “Yes?” “Am I allowed to come back in?” “Of course!” She handed me a green laminated re-entry card. I walked out. The queue was enormous, as big as it was when we had arrived at 10pm; I was impressed.

After the break I resumed my post on the floor near the front. I had missed eight minutes. People were still searching for seats, and as soon as anyone showed signs of movement, others hovered eagerly to snatch up their spots. At 1:45am a group, either drunk or possibly impatient from the long queue, walked in and asked, intentionally loudly enough for the whole audience to hear, “Where are we gonna sit?” His comrades laughed.

At 1:48am I wrote that I was getting sleepy, so I surreptitiously retrieved a vacuum flask of hot coffee I’d smuggled in. There was no real need for discretion, as those at the front were sometimes openly drinking from two-litre water bottles, despite the official prohibition of food and drink. Still, I felt nervous. I waited for cover of darkness to take gulps, usually during black and white scenes, so that the staff (mainly shepherding newcomers in) wouldn’t see me. It kept me up for the next several hours.

At 01:58 the chiding of The Clock began: “Most people are asleep at two in the morning!” exclaimed one character. From that point onward there were frequent protestations, mostly around the hour mark, by characters woken up by ringing phones. For most the twentieth century, people slept with both a large clock and a large phone on a stand next to their bed. These days they’re combined into a small smartphone, whose clock is less likely to appear in shot than a bedside clock. Its screen, if a smartphone were to appear in a film, might show the time, of course. But most of the mobiles that appear are old Nokia phones. The presence of rotary phones next to clocks meant that Marclay had dozens of unpleasant awakenings with which to fill the night. At each of the hour marks there was a sequence of people answering the phone with the protestation “It’s two in the morning!” or “It’s three in the morning!” Whether emergencies or drunk dials, Marclay often put these late night calls into amusing dialogue with one another, across films, as it were.

After 2am the tricks began. The Clock treated those who were awake to increasingly frequent sex scenes, nudity, and négligeés. Those who were asleep sometimes awoke to blaring ambulance sirens or intense horror scores, as if intended to disturb their sleep. The overall tone, compared to the time around midnight, had also become more jocular, as if rewarding those who had remained awake with humour. Exclamations of how late it is, sometimes gravely serious in their original context, also become jokes at the audience’s expense. The film was laughing at us for staying up so late to watch a madman’s dream of Hollywood, and we laughed back.

At 2:24am, about three hours after I’d arrived, I got a seat. It had vacated near the front, so I wound up in the second row on the far right, with a couple next to me. “Most people are like asleep, which is pretty shitty for people outside,” one whispered to the other. This was true; the Ikea couches were comfortable enough that slumber was not uncommon, nor were people above snoring. Whenever this was loud enough, it tended to cause pockets of laughter near it. So although I couldn’t always hear the snoring itself, it became obvious in which vicinities people were making inadvertent noise.

In the film’s reality, Joan Crawford was often to be found brooding, waiting, looking for someone. She does this throughout The Clock, as the New Yorker piece insightfully points out.

One actor whose star was reborn in “The Clock” was Joan Crawford, who in the video becomes a sinister nocturnal creature—she appears nearly a dozen times, always intensely plotting, whether she is putting on gloves (7:41), starting a fire (9:03), administering medicine (10:49), snooping in drawers (10:57), stopping a clock from ticking (11:25), drinking a cocktail in a black sequin dress (11:48), hiding behind slotted blinds (11:52), or staring at a pendulum (2:25).

As noted in my last entry, she’s even played by Faye Dunaway, at 4am and again at midday, in the over-the-top classic Mommie Dearest. This is one of the stranger resonances, to see an actress constantly, then see her dreamlike double re-enacting her offstage life. It is disturbing and surreal. Deborah Kerr is another creature of the night, appearing as a nun in the florid Black Narcissus or traversing interminable hallways and stairs in The Innocents.

At 2:48am, a character asked a relevant question, one I’ve thought about as I’m doing Dry November and blogging about it, from Leaving Las Vegas:

Nicolas Cage: “I came here to drink myself to death.”
Elisabeth Shue: “How long will it take you?”
Nicolas Cage: “I’d say about three to four weeks.”

By 3:25am, I wrote that scenes had become “longer, less distinct, less clearly cut together,” presumably because clockfaces are harder to find in those early hours of the morning. Dream sequences increased in frequency and fluidity. At 3:49am I noted that I wasn’t recognising much. This was true. I had only recognised five or six films in that hour. At 3:57am though, it was Big Ed in the police station in Twin Peaks: “Let’s take him down to interrogation!”

At 4:09am, I wrote “People still arriving!” Since this was the second scheduled all-nighter, possibly people had already done (in October) 10pm–4am, as I’d planned to do this time, and now were back for the early shift.

Another thought popped into my head: “Ten after four” used to be the normal way to tell the time, if The Clock is any indication. I would say “4:10.” But perhaps that’s an American-ism? I think the Brits might say “ten past four,” but I don’t recall people saying “ten after four” as the characters in these old movies said often.

Rosy-fingered Dawn

By this time the time was flying by. I was about five hours in, and recognising a decreasing ratio of images. I was doing calculations: “If I leave now, I would have to be back here at 4am next time, which would mean leaving at 3am, so I’d need to wake up at 2am…” That seemed too early, so although I was tired, I stayed. At 4:14am, Tom Cruise was getting home to a sleeping Nicole Kidman in Eyes Wide Shut.

At 4:21am, as Steve McQueen and other inmates were being unshackled in Papillon, I was reflecting on the fact that after American films, French films seemed the most common, then German. There were not many Italian or Spanish films, and even fewer non-Western films, with a bit of Kurosawa, Wong Kar-wai, Tsai Ming-liang. Shortly thereafter Agent Dale Cooper was being awoken by drunken Norwegians singing loudly in Twin Peaks, and inevitably recording the occurrence: “Diane, it’s 4:28m. I’ve just been woken up by the most god-awful racket, which you can probably hear over the sound of my voice.”

I was five hours in at 4:30am, and Marilyn Monroe’s alarm went off, though I didn’t recognise the film (nor does the wiki). Actresses had begun to awaken more generally, in full make-up, full regalia, perfectly coiffed. At 4:37am: “Please don’t hurt my mama,” said Tippi Hedren in her sleep to Sean Connery in Marnie. A heist was happening somewhere in France, possibly in Rififi (1955) whose characters had been scheming for much of the night. A couple lay in bed, watching each other, in a scene from what might have been from the powerful and chilling À ma soeur! (2001). At 4:34am, an argument over Lee Oswald’s Russian language test, in JFK (1991).

By this point I had become uncomfortably numb. People and situations seemed hazy, unimportant, interchangeable, as happens if one spends too long watching people pass in a station or airport. Dream sequences became more common around 4:50am, with clocks spinning backwards, Lynchian overtones, a metronome, and the frequent appearance of a clock with a crescent on the second-hand. I began to count seats: there are three rows of couches, three seats each, which means nine people per row, and maybe sixteen rows? So 144 people could sit? I was having trouble calculating.

At 4:52am, two children unmoor a boat in the unforgettable Night of the Hunter. Though Robert Mitchum was not in the shot, his fearsome doggedness in that film is unforgettable, so one imagines him in pursuit. A few minutes later, at 4:54am, Sean Connery fought Robert Shaw with a garrote on a train, in a long scene in From Russia with Love.

At 5:02am, the famous scene from the end of Sunset Boulevard (imitated at the start of every episode of BoJack Horseman), with William Holden floating face down in the pool. At 5:06am, the winding staircase of the genuinely terrifying The Haunting (1963). Then suddenly, at 05:08, Romy Schneider’s face shimmered into view in Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno, left unfinished in 1964 and made into a hypnotically beautiful documentary in 2009.

I immediately recognised the scene at 5:10am, after having misidentified the film last time: the early morning call to some posh Kensington house, soaked with menace, at the end of Sexy Beast.

Wake-up Call

Shortly afterwards, at 5:15am, the alarms began to ring in earnest. At 5:25am, a distraught Jean-Claude Van Damme is being told his brother won’t survive, in Kickboxer. At 5:30am, Robin Williams is still in bed, making up nonsensical excuses not to wake up to bid “good morning” to Vietnam.

I resolved to stay until I recognised just one more film. It turned out to be two in a row, at 5:35am: Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Brick, and Dirk Bogarde, in the incredible meditation on codependence The Servant (1963). I left, and walked through an utterly deserted Borough Market on my way home. I fell asleep around 7am, and had insanely chaotic dreams, which I’ve written about elsewhere, in my blog about Dry November.

Since this was such an epic post, I’ll leave it there for now, and postpone further ponderings for later entries. I’ve since seen an hour or two more, putting me past the twelve-hour halfway mark. Thanks for reading, and go see an hour or half hour of The Clock if you’re in London!

One comment

  1. Pingback: The Clock, Part 6: Dusk |

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