Time is ticking. Summer will be gone before you know it, and with it many of those moments you thought you would remember all of your life, vanished by Columbus Day, replaced with a reel of different memories that will probably seem trivial. That's how memory and time conspire: Eventually you forget the face of the summer love you met at camp when you were 11, but that fleeting remark from a Little League coach about hard work rattles around your head into old age. And yet, before autumn crashes in, there are a few things you can do to slow down time, or at least luxuriate in its passing.
Even as you are reminded that nothing lasts forever.
The first thing to do: Dig into "My Struggle," that unlikeliest of literary sensations, a six-part international-best-selling quasi-memoir/novel from Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard that has inspired so much admiration and addiction you might think of it as a Harry Potter of the quotidian — minus wizards, magic or anything resembling a plot. These books — the first three are available in this country (and yes, the title translates in German to "Mein Kampf," for reasons the author reportedly will explain in Volume 6) — are an account of Knausgaard's life, written in the midst of it. He began in 2008 at only 39 years old. His story is no more or less dramatic than yours, leaving room for everyday thoughts and details, no matter how banal.
The second thing to do: See Richard Linklater's remarkable "Boyhood," which, not so unlike "My Struggle," considers the way that our lives gain meaning not only from the traumatic and seismic but the moments that happen between our sea changes, the incidental bits that gather weight. The movie — 12 years in the making, with a cast that aged together all that while, serving as its own special effect — is an epic of the ordinary, an ode to minutes lost forever. We follow the story of Mason (Ellar Coltrane), from childhood to college. There's a scene near the beginning where Mason (then a 7-year-old) and his family are moving. The phone rings. His sister (Lorelei Linklater, the filmmaker's daughter) answers. She tells Tommy, Mason's friend, they're packing, that Mason can't come to the phone because they're leaving.
The family loads up and goes, and from the back seat of the car, Mason spots Tommy bicycling toward them, raising a hand to wave, then a tree blocks the view. And that moment, and their friendship, is history.
In both Knausgaard's autobiographical novels and Linklater's film, the star is time, and the cumulative effect of both "My Struggle" and "Boyhood" is deeply moving, a feeling of having shared a full life with someone.
Which brings me to the third, and the most vital, thing you should do this summer:
Specifically — and please, hear me out — drive to Minnesota. Head to the Walker Art Center.
Park yourself before video artist and composer Christian Marclay's masterpiece of an art installation, "The Clock." It plays through midnight on Aug. 25. Just go. You will not regret this. "The Clock" is of a piece with "My Struggle" and "Boyhood" — it, too, is about life, and art, and time. But in Marclay's piece, the time being reflected is pointedly your own. Inevitably, as you sit before "The Clock" it becomes impossible not to think about how much of your life has been spent watching clocks, and screens, and art — in particular, movies, those famously tempting excuses for escaping from the clocks in your life.
"The Clock" is a 24-hour movie.
It tells the time. As you watch you are constantly reminded of what the time is. Marclay spent three years editing together 12,000 scenes from movies in which someone says the time of day or a clock appears in a scene. There are clocks on wrists, on walls, on bombs; there are digital clocks, grandfather clocks, sundials and clocks in town squares. The tone is breezy and obsessive, but there is no actual story, just an assemblage of movie moments, culled from many countries and every filmmaking era. All synced to real time, for 24 hours: At 4:25 p.m. in the gallery it's 4:25 p.m. on River Phoenix's watch in "My Own Private Idaho"; at 11:05 a.m, Gary Oldman's Sid Vicious is just waking up in "Sid and Nancy"; at 10:30 p.m, Dustin Hoffman is watching TV in "Tootsie"; almost an hour later, Toby Maguire is sprinting through Grand Central Station to catch the 11:20 p.m. train in "The Ice Storm"; at midnight, Big Ben explodes in "V For Vendetta." As Charlie Sheen says in "Wall Street" (at 11:53 a.m.): "Life all comes down to a few moments. This is one of them." The line, removed from its original context, is perversely hilarious.
Scenes play for a few seconds, some maybe a minute. But no scene plays to the very end, and very little actually happens. As in "Boyhood" and "My Struggle," a traditional storyline is stripped back to, simply, life.
And so each moment seems to slide into the next moment. Sometimes we return to an old scene still in progress (as your memory does), only to leave it for a different scene. "The Clock" is a cinematic Swatch: At 10:47 p.m., Anthony Michael Hall is asleep in the car in "National Lampoon's Vacation"; next, a German submarine crew is working; next, a booty call is made; next, Maggie Smith, who'd looked so young (and black and white) at 3:35 p.m., is old (and in color) at 10:51 p.m. Marclay made his name in the art world manipulating records and turntables, not as a club DJ but as an avant-garde musician; later, in the 1990s, his video supercuts of movie scenes of guns firing and one-sided phone calls established the American-born, Swiss-raised artist as a master of appropriation, a grand remixer. So naturally, in "The Clock," he builds in breaks, juxtapositions and gags: a "hello" in a black-and-white film is met a second later with a "goodbye" in color. A flowerpot is kicked, and in the next second, there's an explosion.
Without the time restraints of a feature-length film to worry about, he strips away the illusion that editing creates, reinstalling the true meaning of time. In other words, when James Bond is waiting around midnight for a moment to strike, he checks his watch at 11:25 p.m., then we return to him at 11:56 p.m., almost ready. We return repeatedly to teenagers attempting to stay awake to avoid Freddy Krueger (but we never actually see Freddy Krueger). A whole day's detention in "The Breakfast Club" lasts a whole day.
So the moods in "The Clock" are as fluid as in life, and the emotional barometer of the gallery itself changes depending on the time: Midafternoon feels languid, but as the workday ends, your pulse quickens. The buildup to the top of many hours accelerates to a frenzy as the pastiche of characters rush to meet deadlines, catch flights, get in, get out. Then the hour strikes — at 4 p.m., Robert Redford swats a baseball into a clock reading 4 p.m. (in "The Natural") — and we're back to the hum of existence. The dash for noon is so hectic, when 12:01 p.m. hits, Marclay, cheekily, has Burgess Meredith slide a "Next Window" sign into place. Somewhat cruelly, you grow aware of the time you are wasting watching "The Clock," but (and let's call this a twist) Marclay's pacing is so seamless that you're not allowed a second of boredom. "The Clock" is film history edited into a day-in-the-life of its characters, even as it mimics the rhythm of, well, the movies.
As a character in an art gallery says (about 6 p.m.): "I like it. It's complicated but really, quite simple."
At first I was skeptical of "The Clock." And once inside the gallery, my immediate reaction didn't help: I found myself mostly looking for clocks, searching each scene for timepieces, not thinking about time or life or anything. Then I began to wonder if this would be the longest Oscar night montage ever — Marclay lingers over so many classics ("The Third Man," "Gone With the Wind," "Easy Rider"), there's fun here in the familiar act of just spending an hour with Orson Welles' baritone or Mia Farrow's eyes. Plus, the hype didn't help: "The Clock," which debuted in London in 2010 and won Marclay the top prize at the Venice Biennale in 2011, is so routinely referred to now by critics as the definitive artwork of our time, your expectations grow outsized. But they were right, the critics and the art juries — it is a mesmerizing and unparalleled delight, the mashup to end all mashups, a commentary on not only how we spend our day but a reminder of our scattered attentions, archival culture, remix culture and finally, a reminder to be present in your own day.
Like Linklater's almost three-hour film and Knausgaard's six-volume beast, by whittling the day into mostly the moments before and after Big Moments, "The Clock" takes on a touching air of reclamation, becoming an exhilarating reminder to slow down, stop looking at your world through screens (Mason, in "Boyhood," delivers a rant on this) and experience life. So, again, as with the melancholy you feel in "Boyhood" and the digressive rabbit holes you fall into reading "My Struggle," you experience "The Clock" biologically. Your body synchs to the time you spend with it even as you lose yourself in it. As Sheryl Mousley, senior curator of film and video at the Walker, told me: "I was walking by the gallery (showing 'The Clock') and these women were exiting, and one said 'That was amazing' and another said: 'But what time is it now?'"
The first time I watched part of Marclay's "The Clock" — and no one, not even the curators who bring it into each new city, watches the whole thing, not in one sitting anyway — was a few years ago in Boston. It was the last day it was showing. "The Clock" was literally and figuratively ticking, and so I waited in line for about 40 minutes and told myself that I wouldn't stay more than 15 minutes. But after 45 minutes, I could not extract myself from the gallery and remained watching for two hours. Time flew. The room was packed the entire time. I watched from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. And so, when the Walker restarted "The Clock" in June, I watched from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Then I returned to watch from 3:30 to 6 p.m. Then, returning after-hours (with the help from the museum), I sat from 10:30 p.m. until about 12:30 a.m.