4 a.m. The Clock

The Clock 1:30am – 6:30am November 10, 2016

Truly, we only watched the clock for the last two and a half hours.  The first two and a half hours we just stood in line, waiting for the clock.  Elise and I wondered whether this was part of the experience.  “The artist,” the line minder told us, “has purposely limited seating to 40 people for optimal viewing.”

“Purposely?” Elise, “or did he mean ‘pretentiously?'”

The wait was slow. Legs got stiffer. Tempers wavered from saturnine silence to earnest laughter at things that weren’t all that funny.  Drunken 2 a.m. weirdos milled about, shouted things, stood too close, clipped themselves on doors, danced in a glass fishbowl room from which we sober stoic clock watchers could not hear the music. I remembered some quote-meme that had trended across my social media feed some time ago:

Those who are seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.

The line still sprawled out ahead of us.  100 people ahead? 80?  Do we measure distance in the number of people ahead of us, or in the amount of time it takes for us to traverse this 100 foot stretch of corridor?

Marclay is playing with us, I realized. This is a serendipitous part of his artwork: limit the seating to 40 people, and then watch as everyone watches their watches, shifting, uncomfortably aware of the amount of time—time measured in stiff knees and lower backs—has passed waiting, just waiting, to watch a clock.  Somewhere around this point I decided I no longer liked Marclay as a person, sadist that he is, and as Elise pointed out, a pretentious one, too.

The closer we got to the front of the line, the more a sort of temporal dilation seemed to stretch the distance from the door even farther before, like some sort of twilight zone optical illusion, an ever-receding rainbow of access to the clock. I had The Books playing on repeat in my head.

Take. Time. Take. Time. Take. Time. Take. Time.

I realized the later in the morning it got, the farther forward in the line we approached, the more hardcore the people were in the theater.  They had waited a long time to see The Clock. And goddammit, they were going to enjoy it.  These were the faithful few. The true clock watchers.  The Night Watch.  The Dawn Treaders.  They were, we were—we all were—dead serious about seeing this damn clock.

A Time. And a Time. And a Time. And a Time.

I’ve written before about the Museum of Four in the Morning.  The essential point of The Museum of Four in the Morning (a Tumblr collecting all references to that peculiar time of day) is that  4 a.m. isn’t a time so much as it is an idea and a feeling.  It’s a hyperbolic expression of lateness.  It’s a bipolar hour, a space full of either mania or sleep.  It becomes more and more apparent that nothing actually happens precisely at 4 a.m., that the specificity of the time 4:00 is almost universally a white lie.  It means, simultaneously: “exceedingly late” and “exceedingly early.” It seems insist upon the marriage of such opposites—it is simultaneously a time of extreme inactivity and extreme activity, particularly comprising the unpleasant mash of the two together.  Which of the two (late or early) it means in any given context or usage is hard to determine, it seems to mean both at the same time.

Nothing happens at 4 a.m., except for, well, we got in to the theater at precisely four o’clock in the morning. I was struck with a sense of meaningfulness, symbolic, coincidental, whatever, to our now heroic temporal quest to see the clock.  I may be the only person on this planet who was filled with a rush of excitement walking into the theater, like I’d finally gotten to the front of the line at Space Mountain.  Here we were.

That which is now
And that which is to be hath already been
That which is now hath already been
To be and that which is
That which is
now
There is no remembrance of former things.
There is no new thing under the sun.

I sat down. 4.am. happened.

“That scene didn’t have a clock in it,” Elise noticed.  Many of them didn’t.  It seems that in the wee hours of the morning, even Marclay’s exhaustive collection of minute-by-minute cuts could be exhausted.  The Wicked Witch turns over a giant hourglass—no time here. Marclay seemed to acknowledge this—shot after shot showed clocks without hands whatsoever. At least he is honest, I thought. We’ve entered uncharted temporal waters.

The scenes flashed by.  A creepy number of scenes were of men approaching sleeping women.  A succubus. A wet dream. Remarkable all the people who wear makeup to sleep.  A young man sleeps while a scantily clad tinker bell perches on his shoulder, whispering in his ear, “I’ve a right to find another Johnny, Johnny.”—NO! He bolts wide awake.  Alarm clocks go off almost nonstop, as if the film is trying to help keep us awake.  I was struck by the lack of range of alarm clocks—alarm clocks are a basic form that have only significant differentiation in sound decade-by-decade. Many, many shots of people euthanizing their alarm clocks, some with homicidal violence, others with robotic automation.  I found myself thinking about alarm clock I’ve had in the past and realizing that this was a category that was easy enough to recall.  Repeated early morning trauma sticks with you.

And then I had this moment where I realized that not a single one of these actors was actually existing in a four o’clock in the morning anywhere. All of them,  every single one of them, acting!  Only us, we few, we happy few, we band of four a.m. brothers, we were the only people authentically up at this godforsaken hour.  We stayed up all night, stood in line, creaky kneed and achy backed, just to watch people pretend they are as tired as we are.  It was infuriating! And now the whole day to come would be time-shifted by the jet lag of Marclay’s clock, that brilliant temporal mouse trap he set for critics with nothing more than prestige, pretension, and cheap Ikea couches.

I love it.

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