New Criticals

Realizing such an idea is a Heraclean task that is in itself amazing. But if the film where simply a mash up of these celluloid moments, it would remain merely a fascinating gimmick. Marclay's genius becomes evident as he threads the fragments of film not only with the image of the clock, but through sequences that are connected by action, dialogue, and sound. A door in a mansion in a scene from a 1940s melodrama opens into a small New York apartment in the 1970s. A phone is answered by a gangster in Chicago, on the other end, a teenager secretly calls her boyfriend from the suburbs. A mention of "man in the middle of the field" is made during conversation, cut to a quarterback dropping back for a pass in the middle of a field. Not only the visual continuity, but the aural continuity. Marclay, a d.j., was just as meticulous with the soundtrack as with the image. Often, the sound from the past frame continues into the present frame, connecting not only two images, but two spaces and times. Marclay would even record new sound over an original soundtrack that he did not like, inserting effects and music to keep the ear interested. The proximate cuts are circumscribed by images connected by their distance—what seems at the moment to be an odd image of people standing in line at 6:10 appears again at 6:24. Suddenly, like a Becket play or a Kafka story, the viewer is in the queue, experiencing the mundanity and absurdity of the wait.

The technical execution of the film is flabbergasting, but this is not what makes "The Clock" a work of art. The deft manipulation of a medium is what modern art critic Clement Greenberg called "Alexandrianism," a skill indeed, but not really the production of anything provocative or new, not art. What makes "The Clock" a work of art (one of the most important of the 21st Century) is that it is not something merely aesthetically satisfying, but philosophically provocative. Arthur Danto thinks that contemporary art, what he calls "art after the end of art," must be approached not simply aesthetically, but philosophically. "The end of art consists in the coming to awareness of the true philosophical nature of art."