What Do The Clocks Do When We Don’t Look At Them?
some drifting thoughts on gazes and perceptions of time by Marian Freistühler, April 2018
Wide Shot: There are four clocks in the steeple facing each cardinal direction. They are exceeded only by the cross on top, often being the highest point of the city. When was the last time you checked those clocks to see if you are on time for your appointment? The merely practical explanation for their prominent position may have lost its meaning in times of smart devices and omnipresent screens. But the strong, visible connection between the church, the cross and the clock is still intriguing. Traditionally, the church bells remind everybody in acoustic range of the time of the day. But the church’s perception of time obviously goes far beyond a single day. A clock in the steeple is a reminder of what and who (e.g. you) will eventually pass and of what will last (e.g. from you). The gesture of placing a clock at the highest point of the city paradoxically is a gesture of trying to overcome time, too.

Closer: Clock making might be the most precise, the finest mechanical hand craft humankind is capable of. Hidden behind the dial there are hundreds of gear-wheels working so smooth that we cannot even see the movement of the clock`s little hand. While looking at the clock, we cannot watch the time passing. This is only possible if we direct our gaze somewhere else and return it to the clock at some point to notice: the little hand has moved.

Flashback/Remembering: According to Aristotle’s definition of time, it describes the change of objects in space. So again, it is about a comparison between two statuses of the same thing. We look at it, we look away from it, we look back at it. There is a strong relation between comparison and (subjective) time. We are at a certain place, we leave it, we return to it one day and we notice: our hometown has changed a lot, but the shadow the steeple casts at noon still points to the same direction and will always do so. Our sense of time is all the stronger if we look away from things do rediscover them later. In that sense, time is what happens, when we do not look at it.

Hard cut to/Expectation: (Narrative) Film is a medium that can manipulate and mould our perception of time. Now my thesis is that this is mainly due to what the camera does not look at. The concept of an On and an Off describes the relation between what is visible on screen and what is not visible but still present – outside the cadrage. Whatever is on-screen, be it a woman running through the streets, a burning house or a funeral, it triggers our imagination of a world off-screen. Every On includes an Off. Narration begins when the camera looks away from something and at something else; when two gazes are combined.  Cutting from the woman running through the streets to the burning house establishes a different narration than cutting from her to the funeral (see Kuleshov effect) and maybe even to her lying in the coffin. It is in between these gazes, so in what we have not looked at, where a sensation of time is evoked. I was always wondering: What do the characters (in a film) do when we don’t look at them?

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