April 13, 2011
Watching The Clock II
In the New York Review of Books, another article about The Clock.
Repetitions occur, and appear to be meaningful. If we see a lot of James Bond and Columbo it is because time, staged time, is their natural milieu. Fake clocks drive their narrative worlds: countdowns and alibis, crime scenes. This may also account for the frequency of Denzel Washington.
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.”