Killing Orson Welles at Midnight

The Clock

a film by Christian Marclay
at the White Cube, London, October 15–November 13, 2010; the Paula Cooper Gallery, New York City, January 21–February 19, 2011; the Hayward Gallery, London, February 16–April 17, 2011; the Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow, May 27–August 21, 2011; and the Plymouth Art Centre, September 17–December 4, 2011
RKO/Kobal Collection
Orson Welles in the 1946 film The Stranger, drawn on for Christian Marclay’s film The Clock

It’s two in the afternoon. No one is groaning; no one turns over in bed or hits an alarm clock—it’s much too late for that. Love set you going like a fat gold watch.… But by two o’clock the morning song is just a memory. We are no longer speculating as to what set us going, we just know we are going. We are less sentimental in the afternoon. We watch the minute hand go round: 2:01 becoming 2:02 becoming 2:03. It’s relentless, when you think about it. Mostly we don’t think about it. We’re very busy, what with everything that’s going on. The foreign schoolchildren have already left for the day, a burly gentleman is having his tea in a glass, Billy Liar is being asked “What time d’yer call this?” (seventeen minutes past two), and Charlotte Rampling is all by herself eating chocolate éclairs and smoking, in a garden somewhere, in France, probably.

There’s no slowing it down and no turning back: the day is too far along to be denied. Though some will try, some always do. At two o’clock precisely a man screams at a grandfather clock (“That’ll be enough of that!”) and smashes it to pieces. But the day continues. It always does. The Japanese—a pragmatic people, a realistic people—deal with the situation by having a meeting at a long white conference table. Faced with the same reality, we in the West tend to opt for a stiff drink instead. But people will insist upon shooting us sideways glances and saying things like “It’s two o’clock in the afternoon!” and so we put down our glasses and sigh. The afternoon—free from the blur of hangover or the fug of sleep—is when our shared predicament on this planet becomes clear.

Coincidentally, the afternoon is also the time when many people will first go to see Christian Marclay’s The Clock. Not too early, just after lunch. After all, it may be good, it may be bad—you don’t want to lose a whole morning over it. But very soon, sooner than you could have imagined—in fact at exactly 2:06, as Adam Sandler patronizes a Spanish girl—you realize that The Clock is neither bad nor good, but sublime, maybe the greatest film you have ever seen, and you will need to come back in the morning, in the evening, and late at night, abandoning everything else, packing a sleeping bag, and decamping to the Paula Cooper Gallery until sunrise. Except: Christ, is that the time? Oh well. Come back tomorrow.

The things you notice on a second visit are quite small but feel necessary for orientation, like drawing an x and y axis before attempting to plot a great mass of information on a graph. In my notebook I tried to state the obvious, to get it…

This article is available to subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:

Print Subscription — $74.95

Purchase a print subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all articles published within the last five years.

Online Subscription — $69.00

Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.

One-Week Access — $4.99

Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on

If you already have one of these subscriptions, please be sure you are logged in to your account. If you subscribe to the print edition, you may also need to link your web site account to your print subscription. Click here to link your account services.