Monday, February 27, 2012


Dateline: Varadero, Cuba

Which, for American readers, is Terra Nearly-Incognita. These days, anyway. Canadians, who have been coming to Cuba for sun, fun and wintertime relaxation for going on 40 years now, continue to wonder when one of the last vestiges of the Cold War will come to an end, and something like normalisation of relations between Cuba and the USA will get started. One can hope.

In my posting two weeks ago, I lamented - I think lament is the correct word - the problems with my fourth Inspector Stride Mystery. In a sense this ties in with the title of today's posting. I think that all of us who write, and who entertain expectations from our publishers, become clock watchers after a fashion. In my own case, the original end-of-January deadline is long gone. If the end of January is no longer a "go", then the time frame shifts forward by six months, and is reset, in the manner of a clock, to the end of July, 2012. Although July seems a long way in the future, with snow still on the ground in  Canada (but not in Cuba) and cold winds blowing, it really is little enough time for a major rewrite.

Back to the "other" clockwatching now. And that is about a fascinating production called The Clock, currently on exhibition at Ottawa's Natonal Gallery. It's an ambitious offering by Christian Marclay, a Swiss-American visual artist and composer, currently dividing his time between London and New York. The Clock is described as a compilation of time-related scenes from movies, and it runs for a full 24 hours. The time sequences in the compilation match the times of the actual viewing. In scene after scene, a clock or watch will appear on the screen, or a voice will state the time in the clip, and this matches up with the time on your watch.

As a movie buff of some standing, I wanted to see at least part of The Clock. My partner, rather less of a movie buff than I, said she would watch part of it, but maybe only a few minutes. With that caution in  mind, we went to the National gallery at 2 one Saturday afternoon, and settled onto a sofa - after a ten-minute wait, that is, because when we entered it was standing room only. At five past four we were both still there, and when we did leave, it was reluctantly. We went back again the next day, arriving at four (to catch the continuity) and we left - again reluctantly - at six-thirty. The show really does grab you - obviously!

That Marclay has tapped into a vast number of films, some familiar, some not, goes without saying. Every genre is covered., from drama to comedy to science fiction to westerns, grainy silent films, German Productions, Japanese productions, American, French and British productions.Many familiar faces march across the screen, while many more are only vaguely familiar, or not familiar at all. And for each short sequence - few are longer than a minute - there is a time reference; a clock tower - Big Ben is very popular -

a clock on a wall, a watch on a wrist - many, no doubt, in the original film there as a product placement - or a spoken time notation. "What time is it now?" is a much-repeated line of dialogue.

There is also the famous scene of Harold Lloyd, from his 1923 romantic comedy, Safety Last, dangling from the hands of a clock on a skyscraper, far above the streets of what might be New York City. (And the visual is enhanced if one is aware that Lloyd did all his own stunt work.)

A review of  The Clock in the Guardian newspaper makes reference to the "trance-like state" that the production induces in the viewer. And it's true. It is very hard to get up and leave, even after more than two hours. I think of it as visual-mental popcorn; as in, please sir, may I have just one piece more? You want to stay and see what happens next. And to test yourself. Can you identify the film the clip is taken from? Can you identify the actors, the familiar and semi-familiar faces up there on the screen?

Even if I consider myself a film buff of a sort, I have to admit that I could identify perhaps only 15% of the films, and maybe 20% of the faces. Mostly, it was a case of "I know who that is, it's....." But more often than not, the name does not come. Same for many of the clips. In my heart of hearts, I hope that someone, somewhere, has listed all the films and all the actors, and in correct sequence, so that on some future occasion I can consult the printout, while I watch trance-like. And this being the age of informational tsunamis, someone probably has, or is hard at it.

For a long review of The Clock, go to:

But back to Cuba, now. We are clockwatching here, also. It's Monday, and we head back to the snow and the cold on Thursday. Sad to say. But it's been a great holiday. The sun is bright and hot, the sky is blue, the waters are warm, and the beach is white sand. The resort is first-rate, the food and drink abundant, and very high quality. The staff are polite and friendly. And this for sure: one gets no sense that one is visiting a Communist state. Not a single picture of the brothers Castro anywhere. Or any sense of regimentation or oppression. This is definitely not North Korea. No resemblance at all.

But enough of this keyboard stuff. The beach and the ocean and the swimming pools beckon. There is also a first-class gym where I can contend with the accumulated excess of the past 4 days.

See ya!!


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Charlotte Hinger said...

Tom, I thought it interesting that last nights Academy Awards were dedicated to the past. I haven't seen the Artist, but have heard it isn't even a "talkie" and is in black and white. Talk about turning back the clock!

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