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.

Plaza Watch International - - Contents - WORDS LUIS INI

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.

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