Tick-Tock: Christian Marclay’s “The Clock”

LAST NIGHT, very late, a friend and I ventured to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, on a whim, to see what essentially was a 24-hour film montage as art piece — “The Clock,” in which time is, literally, the essence. Artist and composer Christian Marclay edited together hours and hours of film — foreign, domestic, blockbuster, art house — moments that reference time and builds a narrative constructed by bits and pieces of incidental dialogue that, more often than not, reference a specific time or anticipates what might happen when that “time” arrives.

The piece functions as a visual clock — where each hour, minute and second is accounted for. In other words, we, the audience sitting here in Pacific Daylight Time, is synced with the film’s internal clock — to the second. And so, when, say, an off-the-round number time was referenced by one of the actors, audience members checked their cellphones (and some old-schoolers like me, my watch). We were right on the nose. What a feat in L.A. to have to “go off” right on time. I was struck by the en-masse slumber party feel in the Leo S. Bing Theater on the museum’s grounds — excited but reverent. It reminded me of the old movie marathons the Los Angeles International Film Exposition (Filmex) used to throw annually more than three decades ago.

Last night, there were people who clearly were just filing in for a moment to get a sense of the concept and move on as if it were an installation under plexiglass, still others who wanted to have more complete sense of what the piece’s trajectory — and still others who were in it for the duration — with their blankets and had snuck-in snacks. We stayed about three hours and shoved off into the rain. But long enough to watch the big clocks edge slowly to midnight — and see the beautiful watch and clock faces, the filagree hands, the gorgeous clock towers — registering time, counting down our days. That run up to midnight was greeted with elated applause.

The feeling you are left with is how much time it is we think about time — how it functions in our lives as both an abstract and a tangible dividing line between present and future, success and failure, life and death, chance and destiny.

Here is a little backstory about the project and Marclay here from the BBC.

Rewind: Googie

OVER AT L.A. Observed Kevin Roderick’s featured post is about architect Eldon Davis, “icon of Googie architecture” . He passed away last week here in Los Angeles. He was 94.
If you made toast at the tables at Ships, or sat in one of the booths at Tiny Naylor’s or had one of the scarily low-priced steak and eggs breakfasts at Norms, you know all about Googie. My mother often retold a story about how the two of were caught in the lunch rush at Googie’s — the coffee shop downtown — and were being ignored by the waitress. My mother’s patience was waning rapidly. and she said, I kept asking her — and not in a whisper — if we were going leave and not pay. I probably was about three or four, so “dine and dash” was not in my vocabulary. My mother was mortified. I don’t think we went back to Googies after that, but I have fond memories of all the beautiful shapes and shiny, fanciful space-age squiggles that really firmly place me back in my L.A. childhood.

Mood Music

THIS morning this knocked me out of my blue haze. Percussionist Emil Richards was interviewed on NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday this morning. He told stories about Sinatra and playing the xylophone for cartoons (they can be both antic and whimsical, no?). He of course was part of The Wrecking Crew — that fabled stable of L.A.-based studio musicians who provided the backspace moods, grooves, foundation for so much of midcentury music as we know it. Five minutes of way-back machine fun.

Ventriloquism: The Highest Form of Compliment?

LAST WEEK, I happened to catch an episode of Hell’s Kitchen, one of chef Gordon Ramsay’s many TV franchises. I hadn’t really been watching it too much this season figuring that one season, and that the very limit, two, was probably enough. You get the arc of this narrative pretty quickly.

It’s not a show where one thinks consciously about race — it’s simply its own little survival-of-the-fittest island — but last week more than a couple of the wanna-be exec. chef’s were liberally peppering their patter with their read on hip hop (read: black) argot.

The most uncomfortable voicing throughout has been Sabrina, a trash-talking, 20-something blond who frequently boasts about her “ghetto” this or that , or is wondering if “Diddy” is going to step out of the limo arriving for early seating at the Hell’s Kitchen restaurant.

It’s simply painful to both listen to and watch her. Horror show.

Check her out right about 2:25ish in this clip (and make sure to make it to 2:47):

Later, she sends out this riposte to Vinny, the last chef eliminated: “I took your black jacket, bee-yatch”

 

Then there’s Russell, who addresses everyone as “bro,” and recently referred to himself as a “grown-ass man” then turned and did a gangsta limp out of the room. Last week, he turned it up mid-episode to challenge the kitchen’s most nebbishy cook, Trev, to “come correct.”
 
Well, all right.
I began to fantasize that Jason Ellis or Nilka or better, Tennille (who had the temerity to get in Chef’s face — more than once and without hesitation) — were there to put her in her place. I wonder if she would have felt as free to speak this way if she had someone around to check her.

This all hit home yesterday as I was flipping through a couple of books that I’m putting together a preview piece for the paper. Obstensibly, they are about black oral tradition — the rhythms of passed on wisdom-culture. One of the books, The Anthology of Rap, edited by Adam Bradley and Andrew DuBois (with forward and afterward written by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Common, respectively) speaks to this. Writes Gates in his intro: “Rap’s influence on the English language is palpable in the currents of contemporary, everyday speech. It’s a vivid vocabulary and often explicit.”
 
We’ve grown so used to it, I seldom blink.
I don’t think I would have reacted as much if Sabrina’s voicings hadn’t been so, well, cartoonish. She looks and sounds ridiculous. It’s barely ventriloquism — it’s a sideshow. If it had just been Russell, I wouldn’t have blinked. He seems like a tough-guy who grew up as a kitchen urchin — and Trev better indeed “come correct.” No doubt.

I’ve  known enough full-time cooks and stressed-out executive chefs and all about their all-hours, back-breaking work that stretches from dawn to dawn. I’ve come to know precisely how much a proving ground  kitchens can be and who they attract and why. You’ve got to be tough. There is a commraderie and a system of proving yourselves — a brotherhood if you will. But there was something so off and discordant about her posturing — the eye and neck-rolling — and all else that goes with it.

Come on Sabrina, come correct.