One of the surface level pleasures that one experiences when watching the video work of Christian Marclay, is the fun to be had in seeing ‘impossible’ interactions on screen. In his 1995 work Telephones, for instance, we see Michael Keaton on the phone to Tippi Hedron, divided by decades but brought together by editing in a fun and novel way. Marclay went further with this approach with work such as the dizzying Crossfire, or the deceptively complex Video Quartet. This all culminated in Marclay’s most incredible work to date, The Clock, a film which saw Marclay and his assistant, Paul Anton Smith, assemble a twenty-four hour video installation from film clips that mirrored the actual time of day. The piece was audacious, captivating, subtly mind-altering and a great deal of fun.
A significant portion of Have You Seen My Movie? is a great deal of fun to watch.
Smith has now branched out on his own with a feature length work entitled Have You Seen My Movie?, which very much continues in this tradition of mass assemblage video works that play on one particular concept, but extend beyond simply being a ‘neat idea’. In Have You Seen My Movie?, Smith takes clips from a very wide range of films and cuts between them in order to create a macro narrative of the experience of going to the cinema and a great many micro narratives within this wonderful framework. The film’s wider story takes a relatively simple, linear approach, with people first arriving at the cinema – from those blagging their way in for free, to lush red carpet affairs – and all the way to everyone heading home after collectively watching the end of Casablanca.
Smith not only cuts together footage from films of people at the cinema, but he also includes footage of what they are watching. This obviously breaks with what the characters are actually watching for the most part, of course, and this frequently leads to some amusing and ingenious juxtapositions. In one scene in which we see the early cinema-set scene from Scream 2, for instance, there is a cut back from the film on screen to the audience, and instead of the Scream 2 audience, there is Michael Jackson, who is shovelling in popcorn with a wide grin on his face.
The effect of all this jumping around between film clips and time periods – one particularly amusing sequence sees Chris Evans as Steve Rogers telling a boorish character played by Richard Burton to shut up – should be jarring and something that frequently throws you out of the experience, but Smith knows how far he can push things, and a complex and near seamless sound mix ‘tricks’ you into easily following the action on screen without disruption. A careful consideration of eyelines and spatial coherence also ensures that when one character looks at another in an entirely different movie, the cut is effective and the scene carries on as if we haven’t just jumped thirty years in time.
This is particularly effective in a sequence in which Smith makes significant use of the scene from Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, in which Bruce Lee (Jason Scott Lee) watches Breakfast at Tiffany’s with his then girlfriend Linda (Lauren Holly). He is surrounded by people laughing at the racist Asian character played by Mickey Rooney, but not just those in Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, but cinema patrons pulled from many, many films. As Lee’s face shows his clear distress and Linda slowly realises why, so do members of the audience, and there is a collective shift from hilarious laughter to shock and genuine realisation. This is obviously not what any of these characters are actually reacting to in their respective films, but the moment works because of the skilful editing and the effect broadens the meaning of this scene. It tells a story of a wider culture realising that something they have done in the past is wrong – viewers cover a wide time period – and a collective realisation is necessary to move away from such past mistakes.
There are a handful of moments that work on this sort of deeper level – a sequence involving war films, propaganda and the victims of war, is also rather moving, and a section that moves from the frivolity of sex in John Waters’ Cecil B. Demented to Paul Schrader’s Hardcore, is uncomfortable to watch in all the right ways – but a significant portion of Have You Seen My Movie? is also a great deal of fun to watch.
Have You Seen My Movie? is certainly a film that will play extremely well to an audience of cinema lovers.
More fun moments can be simple gags – a sequence of characters engaging in oral sex climaxing with The Magic of Halloween from the score from E.T. and then the iconic bike shot, for instance – but there are also a number that rely on a little cinematic knowledge. One film that plays ‘on screen’ is Habeas Corpus, the film within the film in The Player, which sees Bruce Willis rescue Julia Roberts from the gas chamber. This scene is being ‘watched’ by Andy (Tim Robbins) and Red (Morgan Freeman) in The Shawshank Redemption. Those familiar with The Player will know that it was Griffin Mill, as played by Robbins, who sold out the screenwriters of Habeas Corpus and allowed this terrible ending. Catching these sort of cinematic in-jokes in Have You Seen My Movie? isn’t essential to an enjoyment of the film, but it’s certainly a film that will play extremely well to an audience of cinema lovers.
A film that reminds you of why you go to the movies in the first place.
Indeed, the film ultimately feels very much like a tribute to the experience of going to the cinema and watching films. As the show wraps up and the patrons begin to leave their various cinema seats, there is a sense of melancholy – helped along by ending the film with the climax of Casablanca – that overcomes you. There’s a romance to Have You Seen My Movie? that is steeped in the joy of going to the movies. A joyous tribute to a sadly dying shared cultural experience, and a smart and entertaining conceptual movie. A film that reminds you of why you go to the movies in the first place.