Glasgow Film Festival

20 February – 3 March 2019

February means Glasgow Film Festival, the joy of connecting with the world on screen and joining some of the best audiences on the planet.  The opportunity to see retrospective classics, discover emerging filmmakers and cinematic rarities is always a draw, but there is a special buzz around Glasgow, a combination of people and programming that makes it unique. As a visitor, staff, volunteers and audiences make you feel welcome and the additional bonus of introductions and Q&As from filmmakers add considerable value to the whole experience. The Pioneer strand of films by first and second feature directors was particularly strong this year with Border, Complicity, Float Like A Butterfly, The Man Who Surprised Everyone, Woman at War and Werewolf among my overall festival highlights. Regardless of the subject matter, there was something about each one of these films that made me feel hopeful. It is always exciting to discover artists whose work you want to follow in future and seeing the ways filmmakers are responding creatively to man-made chaos, past and present, was thoroughly inspiring!

Woman at War directed by Benedikt Erlingsson.

Having loved Benedikt Erlingsson’s previous feature Of Horses and Men (2013), I was looking forward to his latest film Woman at War/ Kona fer í stríð. Erlingsson has a gift for tackling serious subjects with irreverent charm and great humour. In this case, the story of 50-year-old Halla (Halldóra Geirhardsdóttir), a seemingly ‘mild-mannered choirmaster’ secretly committing acts of eco-terrorism to save her beloved Iceland from environmental catastrophe. With a poster of Gandhi on her wall and a Nelson Mandela mask in the field, her extraordinary intelligence, practical skills and physical stamina debunk the Western myth that middle aged women are past their prime. Taking on saving the earth and motherhood by adoption, Halla is a fearless, thoroughly likeable heroine that you can’t help but root for, because her prime motivation is care. Tackling Icelandic history, ideas of democracy, mass media spin, industrial exploitation and the persecution of foreign nationals with shrewd comedy, Woman at War is an absolute delight, being both entertaining and highly conscious. The rugged Icelandic landscape is the ever-present star of the film and the way music functions as witness, chorus and emotional commentary is pure, quirky genius. Woman at War is a wonderful film from start to finish, a gentle push for individual conscience, collective responsibility and action.

Border directed by Ali Abassi.

Iranian-Swedish director Ali Abassi delivers a surprising take on human identity and our relationship with the natural world in Border / Grӓns, winner of the Un Certain Regard Award at Cannes in 2018.  Eva Melander stars as Tina, an outsider and a border guard with the uncanny ability to smell fear, guilt and shame, enabling her to naturally detect illegal activity and solve crimes. When Vore (Eero Milonoff) crosses her path, she encounters someone from her own tribe for the first time, embarking on a path of self-discovery that calls into question who she was raised to be. Without giving too much away, Abassi explores boundaries of gender, animal and human characteristics, together with the nature of evil and the role of mythology in contemporary life. This supernaturalism is a brilliant way of interrogating human behaviour and finding humanity. I loved the unexpected, legendary elements of the story and the complexity of the female protagonist. The elation Tina finds in discovering who she is, is coupled with the ambiguity of that experience and a moral dilemma about how to live in the 21st century. Being cast between worlds, there is a cost in belonging which this film explores unlike any other.

Werewolf directed by Adrian Panek.

Writer/ director Adrian Panek’s Werewolf / Wilkolak delivers a new way of seeing its subject, emulating a deepening aspect of craft in contemporary Polish Cinema. Panek’s examination of the psychological effects of trauma on a group of children feels acutely relevant, not only in terms of the history of Poland and the Holocaust, but in the current climate of human displacement on a global scale. Werewolf questions the nature of Horror, liberation and instinct. It is one of the most fascinating and compelling examinations of the Holocaust I’ve seen, because it takes the view of child protagonists in a new direction, beyond sympathy or sentimentality, to a deeper level of confrontation with what makes us human. Panek asks vital questions about whether growth is possible in extreme (and every day) circumstances, transcends multiple genres and presents a story which is both culturally specific and universal. Set in the summer of 1945 in the chaotic aftermath of WWII, the advancing Russian army liberate Gross-Belsen, a site that was part of a complex of German concentration camps, then a German village and now situated in modern day Poland. This territory of conquest and fear is also the primordial forest of fairy tales in the tradition of the Germanic brothers Grimm. Aerial shots intensify that feeling of density beyond the physical, dwarfing the human figure or vehicles in a seemingly impenetrable dark canopy of trees.  Freed by fleeing SS guards, a pack of German Shepherds roam the forest, as ravenous as a group of orphaned children that have taken refuge in a derelict mansion. Held captive by the ever-present canine threat and the adult world outside, the children forge a path beyond survival.

The young cast including Nicolas Przygoda, Kamil Polnisiak, Sonia Mietielica deliver natural, nuanced performances that convey glimmers of hope as a counterfoil to terror and despair. Each character deals with their trauma in a different way, exposing the audience to degrees of empathy and the possibility of what they might become, either succumbing to the horrors they’ve experienced or eclipsing them. Wladek (Kamil Polnisiak) has survived the camp by being subservient to malevolence. Fuelled by adolescent desire, He’s a devious character willing to close the door while atrocities are being committed- equally seizing the insane routines of his captors to survive a moment of impending death. The question of whether he, and his fellow survivors, can experience liberation of a different kind is part of the underlying tension in every scene. I loved the way that seemingly small details of expression and action initiate change in the heightened confines of the mansion, a microcosm of the wider world.  Dolly is a minor character, a little girl, perhaps 5 years old and unable to speak until she initiates an act of kindness that enables the dynamic of predator and prey dominance to shift. Tellingly the dogs have been trained and rewarded by humans for brutally attacking anyone in a striped uniform. Discarding the uniform, the process of scratching away at serial numbered tattoos is a painful process of bloodletting that is significantly as real as it is symbolic. The introduction of red to what is predominantly a cool, blue palette, alludes to Red Riding Hood, a colour worn by the leader of the group, Hanke, who finds a red dress in a suitcase of belongings and becomes momentarily what she might have been without the Holocaust, simply an adolescent girl growing up. Her civilizing influence on the group, giving structure to shattered lives (including her own) and her ultimate choice to act with mercy implies redemption and deliverance from a life of mere endurance. It’s a path through the forest towards light that left me feeling hopeful- not just for the fate of Hanke and her band, but for a country and film industry that consistently delivers increasingly sophisticated confrontations with its own past. Acknowledgement of history and atrocity is necessary for a future beyond mere survival, or one in which history simply repeats itself. Werewolf is a beautiful example of cinematically out-creating destruction.

In an interview for CineEuropa (05/12/18), director Adrian Panek discusses the cultural and human resonance of the film:

‘I think that the figure of the werewolf, half-human, half-animal, is contemporary here. We as humans used to think that we were civilised and cultured, or that we had a divine origin that made us stand out from the rest of nature. After World War II and the Holocaust – the mass slaughter of one group of people by another, in the name of the battle of the species – we altered that perspective completely. Now we’re seeing that beastly, biological element of humans more and more; we perceive ourselves as animals with overgrown brains, and it’s a complete change of paradigm. Horror has always been part of our culture, but now it’s on a different scale.’

To his credit Panek deals in realism and never succumbs to making the inferred story of the title supernatural. He reminds us that Horror is, above all else, a human invention. If there is a fantastical element, it is the miracle of human survival in the face of desecration. Beautifully filmed by cinematographer Dominik Danilczyk and edited by Jaroslaw Kaminski, who worked on Pawel Pawlikowski’ Ida and Cold War, Werewolf mirrors the truth in fairy tales, as life affirming self-reflexivity, rooted in all cultures. I hope that many more audiences will have the opportunity to see this film, experience its multi-layered tensions and essential light.

The Man Who Surprised Everyone directed by Natalya Merkulova and Aleksey Chupov.

Another highlight of GFF19 was The Man Who Surprised Everyone / Chelovek kotoryy udivil vsekh by writer /directors Natalya Merkulova and Aleksey Chupov. Although it is a film about human intolerance and cruelty, it is also a story of how folklore can be an agent of healing. Tales can mask and reveal truths, especially in countries where visual traditions evolve in response to institutionalised persecution based on politics, gender, race or sexuality. As a contemporary adaptation of a Russian Folk tale, The Man Who Surprised Everyone is an important film that confronts hateful attitudes towards gender identity.

Egor, played with quiet dignity and gravitas by Yevgeny Tsyganov, is a forest guard who learns he is dying from cancer. Prompted by a local healer, he attempts to cheat death by assuming female identity, setting off a chain of events that reveal the depth of prejudice in his community. Whilst the sheer audacity, brutality and unquestioning right to judgement by his persecutors enraged me, the inescapable truth here is attainment of a state of being which shrinks the symbolic tumour, carried inside the individual in denial of who they truly are. Engagement with the fable is life, an alternative to a living death for the central character. Powerful and moving, The Man Who Surprised Everyone is a miracle of a film when one considers its origin. The director’s statement at the Venice Biennale described the film as “a parable about the resistance of the ordinary Russian man to death, which he is trying to deceive. The film is based on the personal memories of the director Natasha Merkulova, her Siberian childhood, the village in which she grew up, the people who surrounded her, the legends that were told in those places.” I think the real beauty and brilliance of this film lies in the story as a Russian doll.

Float Like a Butterfly directed by Carmel Winters.

Set in a travelling community in Ireland during the 1970’s, writer / director Carmel Winters Float Like a Butterfly is the uplifting story of a young woman finding her place in the world and defying expectations, within and outside her community. Hazel Doupe’s luminous leading performance as Frances immediately has the audience on side, rooting for a character with the odds stacked against her. The fighting spirit of the film is also collective, a meditation on prejudice and belonging that fortunately isn’t reduced to black and white morality. Though Frances identifies strongly with Muhammad Ali’s fight for his people, this is also a story about her fight for dignity and respect as a woman-ultimately to be called “the greatest” by her father. The relationships between Frances and her father, brother and extended family present comfort and conflict. Poverty, lack of access to education, the pressure to marry young, have children and serve a husband, compound the ever-present threat of misogyny. Coupled with unrelenting racial persecution from the outside world, Frances’s story could have been tragic, but it isn’t because of who she is- sensitively framed by Winters. Traditional folk music has a significant role to play in the richness of this film and in that respect, I find it interesting that it is set in the past. The vintage palette of passionate crimson and steely eyed blue defines the central character and the dynamics of her predicament. To conform to belong, against one’s own nature is to lose the fight completely. Winner of the FIPRESCI Prize at Toronto International Film Festival 2018 and Best Film Audience Award at Cork International Film Festival, I’m sure this film will win hearts wherever it screens and perhaps present an alternative view of travelling life to a wider audience.

Complicity directed by Kei Chikaura.

Human relationships and the need to belong is also the subject of Complicity, a rare Japan-China co-production and feature debut from writer / director Kei Chikaura. Like the work of Ozu and Koreeda, Complicity is a beautiful, quietly observed portrait of everyday urban life addressing familial relationships and what we need to grow as individuals. It is also an important film for crossing borders, presenting a human face to economic migration with intelligence and compassion. Unable to find work in China, Chen Liang (Lu Yulai) buys a fake identity and moves to Japan, taking an offer of employment intended for someone else. Apprenticed to an elderly soba chef (Tatsuya Fuji) he slowly becomes part of the household, gaining skills and confidence. The relationship between master and apprentice gives the young man the structure, craft and emotional support to flourish in ways that would be impossible at home. Although built on desperation and deception, the connection is real and positively life changing. I love the way Complicity shines a light on the need for safe harbours in the form of human beings, willing to give others the chance and agency to make their own way in the world. If ever there was a need for such a humane statement on screen, it is now.

Her Smell directed by Alex Ross Perry.

In contrast, director Alex Ross Perry’s Her Smell from the GFF19 Sound and Vision strand hits the audience head on with the unrelenting, narcissistic chaos of addiction. Ultimately, it’s a very sobering film about the cult of personality / celebrity that turns stratospheric talent into an inevitable downward spiral. Elizabeth Moss inhabits the role of Grunge star Becky Something so completely that there’s really no option as a viewer than to go with it. There are times when like her fellow band members, the audience is driven to the edge and you really want to get off the tour bus, but that’s precisely the point. Being spun in Becky’s orbit may be an excruciating, all-consuming vortex, but that is the nature of addiction and the insecurity that feeds it. Fortunately, due to Moss’s riveting performance and the examination of female identity/creativity, it is also an interesting ride. When the film does finally shift gear away from full throttle, the cost and repercussions of this life in the spotlight are revealed and like Becky, we have to grapple with what’s left. Effective use of hand-held camera follows her twists and turns of paranoia, delusion and heartfelt brilliance, so that as much as we may dislike the character’s ego and excess, we are compelled to stay with her to the end. Agyness Deyn and Eric Stolz ably support what is essentially a star turn for Moss/ Becky in unflinching closeup. Grunge music culture of the 1990’s wore a particular brand of nihilism, rock and roll excess and heroin chic, almost as a badge of honour. Tragic star personas aside, the raw honesty and vulnerability of Nirvana’s anthem Smells like Teen Spirit or Alice in Chains’ Down in a Hole is undeniable. The channelling of energy depicted in this film is certainly dark, however, it’s also an essential aspect of femininity that’s being let loose here, something that is potentially destructive, but equally pure in terms of expression. It’s not desirable or pretty to look at- but I can think of very few films which allow the same latitude to female protagonists and for that reason it was a dark highlight of GFF19.  

Prophecy directed by Charlie Paul.

Another interesting meditation on destruction and creativity is Charlie Paul’s documentary Prophecy, part of the Local Heroes strand of the festival, focussing on well-known Glasgow figurative artist Peter Howson. As an insight into Howson’s process it’s a fascinating watch, a journey into the anatomy of a painting from blank canvas to sale, shaped by the artist’s apocalyptic vision. Whether you ‘experience the creation of a Masterpiece’ as the trailer claims is debateable. Whilst I agree with Howson that ‘the veil of civilization is very thin’, I’ve always felt that his work succumbs to the testosterone fuelled, power hungry chaos he’s raging against. This film did nothing to convince me otherwise, however I found the excavation of mark and composition emerging out of the physical/metaphorical ground compelling. The artist’s commentary, decision-making process and choice of soundtrack are revealing, not just of an individual life and vision, but how creativity is perceived. The use of classical music adds gravitas to Howson’s art- like his glazing technique adding depth, but it’s slathered on too thickly- pushing emotional buttons of scale and awe. Music cues response to creative male genius suffering a little too often, rather than allowing the work to speak, stand or fall on its own.

The end of film statement that Howson has sold over 1000 paintings valued at $60 million, most in the hands of private collectors and therefore unlikely to be seen by the public seemed like a curious justification for the production. The real justification for the Howson cause is technique and conviction, he is who he is on canvas, whether you like his paintings or not. His distortion of the human figure, evolving from early experiences of Comic book Horror, Old Masters like El Greco and Griffiths’ Silent Film depiction of Christ, engages with a potent combination of fear and beauty, as he sees it. The atmosphere and intensity of the Prophecy painting is undeniable, as is Howson’s belief that he has an ‘important role to play’ in ‘warning people’ about human decay and depravity. Although there are elements of redemption and innocence, such as his daughter Lucie, a figure in many of his paintings, ‘pointing the way’, I’m not convinced that enlightenment or illumination are to be found in this work. In the end, unrelenting brutality and macho posturing comes to celebrate the very thing he’s protesting about. His Croatian and Muslim painting is a prime example. The strength of this documentary perhaps lies in portraiture, the flawed perfectionism that simply renders the artist human and makes this is an accessible documentary. There are many unsettling elements in Howson’s work, intentional and otherwise. I found the addition of the American and Isis flags in his focus work, described by the artist as intentionally controversial, rather an empty play towards the painting’s final destination, undermining the integrity of his process and biblical-style mission to educate.  US market receptivity and celebrity collectors are part of the framing of Howson’s work and its perceived value, however it’s the psychological elements in play as the artist completes the painting that are the most interesting aspect of the film.

This Magnificent Cake directed by Emma de Swaef and Marc James Roles.

This Magnificent Cake by Emma de Swaef and Marc James Roles was an innovative delight, screened with their wonderful short Oh Willy…  as part of the GFF19 Belgian Cinema: Both Sides Now strand. A fabulous dose of stop motion Surrealism and post-colonial critique, This Magnificent Cake is a triumph of ingenuity and imagination in five parts, using fibres, textiles and skilful sound editing to create a truly unique vision. The obtusely linked tales feature a dreaming king, a pygmy working in a luxury hotel, a failed businessman, an expedition porter, an army deserter and an unfortunate clarinettist. Worthy prize winners at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival (2018), Clermont-Ferrand International Short film Festival (2019) and Toronto International Film Festival (2018), Emma de Swaef and Marc James Roles are distinctive talents in the field of animation, delivering so much more than amusing entertainment.  Their poignantly woven tales and absurd comedy examine history and human connection in ways that are strikingly fresh, crafted with exceptional skill and originality.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid directed by George Roy Hill.

The annual GFF retrospective strand is a champion of exposure to the back catalogue and accessible cinema, qualities often missing at other festivals. The GFF tradition of free morning films continued this year with the 1969: The End of Innocence Retrospective including screenings ofMidnight Cowboy, Easy Rider, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Medium Cool, Alice’s Restaurant, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, Sweet Charity and The Wild Bunch. Festival co-director Allan Hunter’s introductions always add value, whether the film is familiar or previously undiscovered. Held in the Deco surroundings of GFT1, the thematic focus, added context and open, welcoming atmosphere of these screenings are one of GFF’s unique pleasures. Seeing Shirley MacLaine in Bob Fosse’s Sweet Charity for the first time and revisiting the legendary partnership of Paul Newman and Robert Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were thoroughly enjoyable, especially with Hunter’s lead-in commentary, exposing different layers in film-making, history and performance.

GFF19 has been a great cinematic start to the year, showcasing the many ways that filmmakers are using their craft to make us see, think and feel differently about the world around us and our place within it. Film Festivals and cinema in general has a significant role to play in making these imaginative shifts of perception visible, initiating self-reflection and positive change. The films that affected me most this year weren’t holding placards, they simply told their stories with conscience, beauty, artistry and hope. Promoted as ‘the perfect movie mix’ GFF is all that and more, intimately connected to the energy of the city, its people and the rest of the world, .https://glasgowfilm.org/glasgow-film-festival

Christian Marclay : The Clock

Tate Modern 14 September 2018 – 20 January 2019

Installation View.Tate Modern. Christian Marclay, The Clock 2010. Single-channel video installation, duration 24 hours. Tate Photography (Matt Greenwood).

Being eclipsed, suspended and enslaved by time is our real-time immersion in modern life, moving inevitably towards eternal midnight.Christian Marclay takes what it is to be human and winds it into the mechanism of TheClock so seamlessly, with such artistry and grace, that words like ‘genius’and ‘masterpiece’ are entirely justified. After experiencing three-and-a-half-hoursof this work, I was profoundly moved, elated and frustrated that watching the full 24hrs wasn’t an option during my visit. There aren’t many works of “NOW” I’d want to spend that kind of time with, but The Clock is something else. It’s a work of art you enter into and become part of, rather than passively watch. Marclay has managed to create a work as addictive as the multidimensional concept of time and existence it encapsulates, an unrelenting and strangely beautiful meditation on time running out for us all. Despite its modern materials and contemporary masterwork status, Marclay’s Clock transcends the time it was made. It speaks of universal human experience through sound and image in a compelling, urgent way. I place ‘sound’ first, because Marclay’s craft and foundation as an artist is making objects from audio. The Clock is a highly distilled example drawn from a lifetime’s exploration, which is the real source of its genius.Fortunately for the UK, one of six limited edition copies of The Clock has now entered the Tate collection, jointly purchased with the Centre Pompidou, Paris and the Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

Originally commissioned by The White Cube, London, where it debuted in 2010, The Clock is an incredible artistic achievement in its union of concept and craft. A montage composed of over 12,000 clips, spanning 100 years of film and television,screened over 24 hours in real time may sound like a work tailor-made for film geeks. (And I won’t lie, part of my irrepressible joy in this work stems from that.) However, the way that Marclay handles this material brings wider frames of reference and association brilliantly into play. Although it is an epic work of art, film and human history, The Clock is also a very intimate experience, where your own projections/ narratives meet those of the maker(s). I heard quite a few people on exit reminiscing with friends and family, delighted, thoughtful and wondering in awe about how it was made. Marclay was aided by six assistants in finding and sorting suitable material over three years. However, the vast amount of footage needed to construct The Clock isn’t as impressive as the skill required to create cohesion and expanded meaning in the final 24 hr edit. The most powerful sense of identification inside this work isn’t ultimately based on how many film-clips you recognise, entwined with your own viewing/ life history, but with the collective human orientation towards understanding. Wonder and curiosity are as much a part of the projection as the threat of advancing time and fear of death. In human terms The Clock is an admission and a creative act of defiance, a monument to human perception and memory that makes us who and what we are.

Film Still. Christian Marclay, The Clock 2010. Single-channel video installation, duration 24 hours. Courtesy of White Cube, London and Paula Cooper Gallery, New York.

As a species we’re hardwired to construct meaning and aspire to dreams, a trajectory held in tension with the fact that as time marches on, we edge closer to becoming dust, akin to celluloid ash. Human mortalityand vulnerability are part of what makes The Clock tick. The ways we are driven and shaped by time, as concept and physical reality, permeate every frame in ways that are playful, ironic and visionary. I loved the free, associative power of this work, providing triggers for the viewer’s imagination within an ever-evolving structure of interwoven narratives. Although there are human hands at work in The Clock’s construction, it’s the individual and collective minds of the audience that are the beating heart of this work. Sound and image overlap, contradict and elevate moments of recognition. Marclay’s command, not just of film language and genre, but the ways we see, is so astute, that my trust in where I was being taken was absolute. I really didn’t want to leave and would have happily gone with the flow for the full 24 hrs. Punctuated with humour, suspense and sublime poetry, The Clock is a work that illuminates beyond expectation. Many people are cynical about contemporary art, the value and spaces it occupies, but here is a work that places value on the imagination and intelligence of audiences, to do what we do naturally as human beings. Making connections and creating meaning is the elusive essence of life we’re all trying to grasp in one way or another. In The Clock, Fine Art meets mass media in ways that the internet has failed to democratise. You need Craft and contact with people to create beyond instantaneous self-gratification. This is what makes The Clock such an enriching experience, the sense of being part of something bigger, but no less powerful than an independent mind.  You know you’re not alone in the dark and the longer you stay within the span of this work, the more it reveals, somewhere between the conscious and unconscious.That emerging process of recognition feels poignant and true, part of the extended, real time experience. However long we choose (or are able) to spend inside it, Marclay has created a space we are free to bring ourselves to and actively dream in, a homage to the enduring magic of cinema. This love for form and material makes a world of difference in any made object. It’s an investment of time and energy that can transform how we see and the world around us.

Film Still. Christian Marclay, The Clock 2010. Single-channel video installation, duration 24 hours. Courtesy White Cube, London and Paula Cooper Gallery, New York.

At base we are watching, waiting and anticipating the mundane and extraordinary pattern of life in a perfectly synchronised 24-hrcycle. Common experiences at different times of day like waking or clocking off connect audiences, together with genres of popular entertainment. Commentary ontime takes many forms, through image, dialogue and sound. We don’t need a degree in film studies to feel the dramatic arc or emotional trajectory of that exploration. Consciously or not, we know what it is to be a hostage in cinema. Our Western Pop culture viewing is steeped in Hollywood fuelled conventions watching Westerns, Thrillers or Rom-Coms play out on screens big and small. It’s the same when we hear a symphonic piece of music. Despite the variation, the core material is deeply, culturally, known to us and it is rare that we are not reassuringly returned to the home key by the end of the performance. Marclay’s final destination may be unknown, but the journey is knowingly crafted and deeply empathic in terms of the visual creatures we are. If this sounds too intellectual, I can assure you it isn’t- while you’re watching The Clock, you may be conscious of time elapsing, but you’re not conscious of the mechanism and are free to create your own moments out of it, something barely afforded time in everyday life. It is hugely enjoyable, laugh out loud funny and deeply resonant to be confronted with images anchored in your own time, whether iconic or incidental. The Clock’s crafted stream of consciousness overlaps with the visual soundtrack of our lives and personal memories. It also contradicts that familiarity, shattering time with the suggestion that it is an invention; a ‘clock on a mantlepiece [was] a magician’s trick a few hundred years ago.’ The worlds of Art and Science merge in human ingenuity and invention, driven by our ageless desire for knowledge and control. In the late afternoon, a clip from the 1950’s presented a Marclay induced fable about apowerful Sultan with control of time, coupled with the dangerous, all-consuming need to know how time is spent. Our relationship with the technology of the day is simultaneously questioned, realised and foreshadowed for generations to come.

Film Still. Christian Marclay, The Clock 2010. Single-channel video installation, duration 24 hours. Courtesy of White Cube, London and Paula Cooper Gallery, New York.

In many ways The Clock is a mirror where moments of fiction and history emerge out of each other, stimulating deeper reflection. In one scene, we see a pocket watch and running medal, inanimate objects from Peter Weir’s Gallipoli reinterpreted by sound and the fluid slip into the next cut. In the original film, the human absence of soldiers gone over the top at the designated time becomes the injustice of life wilfully extinguished by man. The film once watched is also a memory, with its own unfurling narratives in the mind of theviewer. However, the beauty of this clip lies in the clarity of the edit, which presents us with objects of association, in that moment and for all time. ‘Remember time is luck’ we hear in another scene, which comes towards the clocking off end of Marclay’s momentous day in the life of humanity. The relentless drive for knowledge and progress is acknowledged by another character in our fellow cast of millions; ‘when my clock stops, I die.’  Without awareness, arguably there is no point in living, which is why we need art. Marclay appeals equally to instinct and intellect, beating seconds out with a watch on railings and percussive fingertips, bodily ticks that are part of the film’s dramatic acceleration, moving in and out of consciousness. The ease and boredom of the familiar is contained in that measure of time too, part of the realism of The Clock, potentially experienced in the gallery for a full 24hrs or for a lifetime in the world outside.

Marclay’s prescribed installation space is a womb of imagination,a submerged twilight world somewhere between cinema, gallery, sacred and domestic space, punctuated by rows of identical white Ikea couches. The light from the screen creates an otherworldly glow and the movement of people coming and going, mirrors the progression of arrivals and departures on screen. Coming from the winding, packed queue outside, you plunge into the dark, finding your way to an available seat with the 21 x 12 foot (6.4 x 3.7m) flickering screenlight to guide you. There are jostled whispers and negotiation, sometimes finding yourself uncomfortably positioned in three seated combination with pairs of visitors. It made me wonder how British I’d become and if other screenings around the globe carried their own nuanced etiquette. In joining the audience and sharing viewing space normally made more comfortable and anonymous by individually designated seats, lines between public and private domains blur.There is also the blur of time we encounter in the near dark, a meeting of generations and memories, invoking human ritual, storytelling and spirituality from prehistoric cave to modern auditorium. The audience is part of the rhythm of the work and the ingenious way it constructs moments of identification and clarity. In the same way that listening to music is direct, immersive and abstract, there’s a sense of going with the flow, being half lead by the regularity of time and entering alternate levels of awareness. That hypnotic quality feels like a comfort and release from the crazy spin of 21stCentury life outside, doubly so circa 2018. We’ve grown accustomed to anavalanche of recycled shows, images and Gifs via You Tube, Vimeo, social media and streaming services. The superlative difference here is the structural intricacy of Marclay’s work and its emotive core, led by the his chosen discipline.

Installation View. Tate Modern. Christian Marclay, The Clock 2010. Single-channel video installation, duration 24 hours. Tate Photography (Matt Greenwood).

Marclay’s clock is a great architectural and cinematic symphony that moves the viewer in unexpected ways, harnessing every moment of the metaphorical ‘flicker.’ It’s the ephemeral nature of light in cinema and the slippage between frames. The illusion of continuity, the gap between each stilled image that has us reaching and constructing the next, to continue the sequence because our lives depend on it. That imaginative, unconscious pause is something that no device outside can deliver. The hook or Hookland between frames is the substance and soul of film. Like a great composer, Marclay weaves breath-taking open variations on themes, the product of editing and sound design honed over a 35-year career. Marclay described the editing process as “the most fun…finding connecting bridges…cutaways where one action happens in one film and the reaction happens in another. Someone opens a door, enters a different world, a different film. These editing tricks are used to create this sense of continuity, this flow, and this make believe…”

When The Clockwon the Golden Lion at the 2011 Venice Biennale, Marclay thanked the jury for giving the work ‘its fifteen minutes of fame.’ Our Western consumer culture has made pursuit of that ‘15 minutes’ a way of life, in ways Warhol never envisaged. My feeling is that The Clock, in concept, execution and reception, constitutes more than a fleeting moment of recognition. Marclay’s sublime and illuminating work brings the truth of fiction resoundingly into focus. Like the observation that ‘bad things last longer than good’, my time with The Clock ended too soon. Very few people will be able to watch the whole 24 hrs, with only a handful of screenings outside normal gallery hours. Though I long to see the descent into Noir and where Marclay’s film leaves the audience in the final frame, I wouldn’t want to experience The Clock any other way but as intended, in an expansive, communal space of the artist’s making.  ‘Can you give my time back to me?’ asks Samuel L Jackson in one scene, no, you can never have it back, but for me The Clock is time well spent. Out of my life’s memories, of all the art I’ve ever seen, this moment is true. I know because I leave the darkened room with tears in my eyes and cross the threshold,awakened to the world outside seeming brighter. Where there is art like this, there is awareness and hope.