Monday, 1 August 2011

Sea Time

Time spent at sea is a strange, amorphous thing, which probably added to my engrossment of Christian Marclay's The Clock, when I sent to see it in Glasgow between crew changes the other week.

Not only is the film a breathtaking work of commitment and craft, but completely compulsive. By editing clips of films that refer to time, the pieces, generally, tended to focus on characters waiting or rushing. And yet when set alongside each other, became inconsequential. Or at least every scene was laden with impending consequence - anticipation or adrenalin - which never materialised, just segued into another scene laden with more inconsequential consequence. So each climatic point carried high tension never to be resolved. No emotional tail for the viewer. A cinematic version of a Kafka novel, perhaps?

It was showing at the CCA in Glasgow, but sadly I'd missed the 24 hour showing of it so only got to see from midday to 4pm. Being in there for four hours was a heady experience. Which I'm sure was exaggerated by having been on the boat for a week. Being on a boat is the opposite of inconsequentiality ... absolutely every action has a very obvious reaction, and one of the requirements of being on board is being able to think at least four events ahead: if I let go of that rope, the bow will do this, the stern that and the crew another, then me some like that ...

This foresight of cause and effect is the main intellectual activity of sailing since most of it is physical and instinctual, or at least has become so after years of doing it, making my responses automatic. This is great - for me. But has a downside when there are others on board, who might not have the same experience. Since I was unable to explain to others in clear concise points how to steer, tie bowlines, fend us off from pontoons, reef sails etc etc. And with having two weeks of inexperienced crew on board I had to go back to my verbal drawing board (is there such a thing?) and find the words and intelectualise the procedures for virtually everything I did in response to the wind, sea or boat.

And so what joy to indulge in four hours of nothing mattering, except in a minute's climax and watching actors be old, then young, then older again within an hour (Meryl Streep and Anthony Hopkins were particularly evident between 12-4pm). It was a bit like taking on the perspective of the sea: witnessing panic alternating with patience and having no real concern over what might happen next. Perfect viewing for a 24 hour passage.

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