AT THE MOVIES
In its analogical and classical way, cinema is a miracle of 24 frames a second. Movies have an intimate relationship with clocks, watches and time itself. Indeed, they form an inseparable bond together.
Luis Ini takes a look at watches in the world of cinema.
The origins of cinema history can be traced through the relationship and depiction of time through many forms, including , of course, watches and clocks. Recall that the Lumiere brothers' first movie was Workers Leaving the Lumiere Factory (1895), and a year later the groundbreaking film that had people fleeing away from the screen – Train Pulling into a Station (1896). Think about that – the train has a schedule; a day's work also concludes according to a strict schedule. In both cases time must be measured. These are the earliest examples of time and its connection to the cinema, and it extends through the centuries into the present day.
At the 2011 Venice Biennale, the Swiss-American visual artist and composer Christian Marclay was recognised as the best artist in the official exhibition, winning the Golden Lion for The Clock, a 24-hour compilation of time-related scenes from movies that debuted at London's White Cube gallery in 2010. That piece is in effect a clock, but it is comprised of a 24-hour montage of thousands of time-related scenes from movies and TV shows, meticulously edited to be shown in 'real time'. Each scene contains an indication of time (for instance, a timepiece, or a piece of dialogue) that is synchronized to show the actual time. The viewer progresses with the film second-to-second, minute-to-minute, hour-to-hour.
Cinema’s HISTORY is filled with moments that could not exist without the concept and manifestation of time. One of the most fascinating scenes for any watch entusiast was in Safety Last! (1923) The image of Harold Lloyd clutching the hands of a large clock as he dangles from the outside of a skyscraper above the moving traffic below – a stunt which he actually performed. Another iconic big clock is the one Fritz Lang put in his masterpiece Metropolis (1927), a movie that presents a huge metaphor about dehumanisation because of industrialisation.
As the film-making craft developed, it was a natural next step to present movies in ‘real time’ as though they were happening as the viewer watches the action. There are plenty of movies in which the time moves on as the viewer watches, the action unfurling moment-to-moment. For example, Alfred Hitchcock's Rope (1948) follows two young protagonists intent on proving their intellectual prowess by committing the perfect murder. This movie is notable for being edited in order to appear as a single continuous shot through the use of long takes.
In a similar vein, John Badham's Nick of Time (1995), follows a man who is ordered by two strangers to kill the California governor. If he refuses, they will kill his kidnapped daughter, and with 75 minutes to do the job, the clock ticks throughout. Joel Schumacher's Phone Booth (2002) also presents similar moment to moment action deriving from the most banal act of answering a call in a random phone booth.
However, the presence of a clock is most keenly felt in Fred Zinnemann's classic Western movie, High Noon (1952). The film stars Gary Cooper as Marshal Will Kane, a man of the law on the verge of retirement who learns that the villain he put away in jail years earlier will return to town to take revenge at the time of the film’s title. The movie takes place between 10:35am and 12:15pm – slightly longer than the 84-minute running time due to the re-editing of the original cut. Throughout the events of the story, various shots of clocks ultimately conclude in the confrontation – a technique that has subsequently become an endlessly copied visual motif.
In more recent times, the wristwatches worn by actors in successful movies have become significant vehicles of characterisation and projection, and they have also become iconic timepieces in cinematic and popular culture. Here we review some classic movie appearances.