The Clock makes you realize how finely attuned you are to the rhythms of commercial (usually American) film. Each foreign clip is spotted at once, long before the actor opens his mouth. And it’s not the film stock or even the mustaches that give the game away, it’s the variant manipulation of time, primarily its slowness, although of course this “slowness” is only the pace of real time. In commercial film, decades pass in a minute, or a day lasts two and half hours. We flash back, we flash forward. There’s always a certain pep. “Making lunch” is a shot of an open fridge, then a chopping board, then food cooked on the stove. A plane ride is check-in, a cocktail, then customs. Principles dear to Denzel—tension, climax, resolution—are immanent in all the American clips, while their absence is obvious in the merest snatch of French art house. A parsing of the common enough phrase “I don’t like foreign movies” might be “I don’t want to sit in a cinema and feel time pass.” Given that nobody has given you the rules—given that you have imagined the rules—how can you be indignant when these rules of yours are “broken”? But somehow you are. If Christian Marclay returns to the same film several times—a long “countdown” scene, say, from some bad thriller—it feels like cheating. And because you have decided that the sharp “cut” is the ruling principle of the piece, you’re at first unsure about music bleeding from one scene into another. But stay a few hours and these supposed deviations become the main event. You start to find that two separated clips from the same scene behave like semicolons, bracketing the visual sentence in between, bringing shape and style to what we imagined would have to be (given the ordering principle of the work) necessarily random. Marclay manages to deliver connections at once so lovely and so unlikely that you can’t really see how they were managed: you have to chalk it up to blessed serendipity. Guns in one film meet guns in another, and kisses, kisses; drivers in color wave through drivers in black-and-white so they might overtake them.
more from Zadie Smith at the NYRB here.