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The International Writers Magazine: Destination - New York Archives

It’s About Time
• Walli F. Leff
I go for hours and hours without checking the time. A while ago my husband left our car, which we rarely use, at his sister’s place and freed us from the constant need to find “a good space” to keep it from being ticketed or, worse yet, towed away for violation of the alternate-side-of-the-street parking rules. That exalted us from time slavery to New York City’s peculiar version of liberation.

Since I stopped working at a job that required me to be in an office, I was already well on the way to that blissful state.

New York

I’ve been able to write uninterruptedly at my computer, go to the health club, watch television shows I enjoy (we TIVO them—my favorite newly-invented verb), read through the night, take a walk, or take a nap anytime I liked—in short, I was almost entirely free. This new relief from the maddening car duty that interrupted me and my thoughts whenever I had to run out to find a new parking place removed the last external barrier to unfettered concentration and focus (procrastination and distraction are, as yet, unsolved internal matters) and gave me true flexibility to do what I want when I want to do it.

The freedom didn’t turned me into a solipsist; I’m happy to be of this world. I’m comfortably settled in my theater or movie seat before the show begins and I don’t miss airplane flights. I arrive at the hairdresser’s salon and doctor’s office at the appointed time. And when there is a communal activity to partake in or historical event to witness, I want to be part of it. I have no desire to deny time; I like seizing the moment and being involved in it.

As New Year’s Eve approached, my husband and I mulled over how we might celebrate this hedonic fiesta of bidding the time past good-bye and embarking on a fresh supply of new minutes in an excited public countdown. An ad for a screening of “The Clock” at the Museum of Modern Art caught my eye.
The Clock

Video artist Christian Marclay took hundreds and hundreds of film snippets, each of which used a shot of a clock or a watch, the tolling of bells in a clock tower, or some other technique that showed the particular minute at which the scene was taking place, to create a film of all the time in a day—every single minute in the twenty-four hours of a day. In real time. That’s right; the film is twenty-four hours long. If you want to see the entire film, you have to sit there for twenty-four hours. (Marclay has stretched the European Neoclassicists’ twenty-four hour unity of time rule to its limit without a second to spare.)

Now, that’s intriguing—our own little time and movie marathon.

Stay awake for twenty-four hours? Oh, wait. It says you can’t eat and drink in the theater.

Hmm. What if we took breaks—coffee—a meal—snacks—trips to the restroom—change of pace—you know, pay our respects to Picasso, wave hello to Les Demoiselles d’Avignon?

You’d have to wait in line to get back in, that’s what.

Oh. Well, how long do you want to stay?

Let’s play it by ear.

With that approach in mind, we invited two people we thought might be interested in this unusual work of video art to share the occasion with us: the eighteen year-old daughter of good friends from Mexico City, an aspiring filmmaker and lover of art who was planning to come to MOMA, was visiting her aunt in New York, also a dear friend of ours. Did they want to see “The Clock?” Yes!

With excitement and, admittedly, a bit of trepidation that going to such lengths to view the hands on clock faces move from one minute to the next might be exceedingly dumb, we found seats in the theater. We needn’t have worried that we might be letting ourselves in for a mind-numbing, sterile session. As a former DJ, Marclay is particularly well-suited to meet the challenge of keeping audiences exposed to a long series of unrelated film juxtapositions from fleeing the theater bored or disoriented or confused: bleeding the sound from one segment into the next to create a faux relationship between them is second nature to him. His deft technique brings about continuity between clips related only by the fact that the image of time displayed in the first is one minute before the image of time in the second. His visual editing is just as skillful. In many of his segues the first place, posture, or emotion you see in the new minute follows logically, or provocatively, or suspensefully, or hilariously from the clip that precedes it. With great talent, Marclay keeps viewers on their toes, so to speak—gets them involved, gets them to care.

We devoted somewhere between two and three hours to the film, a longer span of time than we give to most feature films. (I take that back. If you figure in the grubby commercials and previews of coming attractions movie houses inflict upon you, they actually hold you captive for a far longer time than we spent watching “The Clock.”) None of us wanted to leave sooner and the time we did spend felt about right to us all. Even though I was literally watching time pass, I didn’t get the sense that I was watching the clock and waiting for the bell to ring and the teacher to say “Class dismissed” that I occasionally had in school when I was a kid. Nor did I feel as though I was in an experiment designed to have subjects experience consciously what it is like to watch the minutes of a day in their lives go by. Some people might benefit from that meditation, but to me it wasn’t a natural response to the film. My experience was definitely one of watching a movie, albeit a film without apparent plot, motive, or overall coherence. The film was intended as art and I reacted to it as art.

The sun had set when we parted company with our friends, but there were still hours to go before the clock would strike twelve. We went about our way, doing things we often do on New Year’s Eve. Walked among the crowds on the sidewalks, saw a movie—yes, really, another movie—“Promised Land”—popcorn and all!—then went home, set out pâté, cheese, wine, and chocolate truffles, and turned the TV on to CNN’s Times Square ball-drop coverage for the outrageous repartee between Kathy Griffin and Anderson Cooper.

Funny—it was funny. Then came the commercials.

No, please don’t pause it, don’t TIVO it! I want to see the New Year come in live!

We’ll fast forward to real time. We don’t have to watch commercials. Let’s see what else is on.

We went through the channels and found—yes, you guessed it—another movie.

Lemmon Jack Lemmon!

“The Apartment!” Haven’t seen that in years!


We watched engrossed and surprised both of us had forgotten so much about a film we thought we’d stored in such detail in our memories.

All of a sudden . . .

Change the channel, change the channel! Go back to CNN. Live!

The crowd was roaring. The countdown had begun . . . seven, six, five, four, three, two, one . . .

Kisses, wine glasses clink, more kisses.

Happy New Year!

© Walli F. Leff - February 2013

Walli F. Leff is the author, with Marilyn G. Haft, of Time Without Work, and writes articles on psychology, science, cultural and political affairs, and travel. Her psychological thriller, The Woman Who Couldn’t Remember But Didn’t Forget, will soon be published by Sunstone Press.

A Taste of Saint-Tropez
Walli F. Leff

The sun shone gloriously on the “Pot d’Accueil,” the municipality’s welcoming event for the boats’ crews and the tourists.

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