The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMoMA) opened in 1995, the same year I moved to San Francisco. Across the street from the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the MoMA is also nearby to the AMC Loews Metreon 16 and the Century San Francisco Centre 9.
(For some reason I neglected to photograph the front of the building on my two visits. The below image is from online magazine A Weekly Dose of Architecture.)
Though not technically a movie theater, the museum does exhibit films now and then, including eleven different titles in 2010 when I was tracking Bay Area showtimes. As could be expected, the museum selects films that relate to art (Superstar: The Life and Times of Andy Warhol) or are concept pieces (the one-reel and incredibly boring Russian Ark).
The interior of the building is as striking as its exterior, filled with an extensive collection of artwork in various mediums. No other theater offers this much to look at before or after my movie.
I can't speak to which auditorium is typically used for film exhibition, but for The Clock, a line formed outside a u-shaped hallway (early in the morning, we entered the theater without waiting; by the time I gave up my seat, the line was quite long). Once I was admitted and rounded the bend in the hallway, an usher directed me to wait at the back of the theater where a few other patrons were queued up, able to watch the film from the rear of the auditorium while waiting for a seat. The room itself was a simple box shape, with three columns of couches stretching toward the screen (I estimate ten rows of couches, for a total seating capacity of 90). Several other ushers responded to people walking out by escorting the next person in line to take the vacated seat (I heard there was a bathroom policy, to gain re-admittance without waiting in line again, but I wasn't willing to risk it). In this manner, and unlike for any other movie I've seen, the audience was constantly rotating. Some people perhaps stayed only half an hour; others had been there all night. I stayed for two three-hour stretches, two weeks apart.
In June of this year the museum closed its doors for a three-year expansion project. When it reopens, MoMA will have added an adjacent building, more than doubling its gallery space. (See a time-lapse of the construction here.) In the meantime, the museum is sharing its collection with the entire city.
View from the MOMA, looking toward Yerba Buena Garden.
The Clock (2010)
Visual artist Christian Marclay and an impossibly dedicated team of data miners have gathered time-themed moments from thousands of films, stitching them together into a single, 24-hour time loop, where the time displayed in the film corresponds to the actual time of day the viewer is watching the film. The film is disjointed, mesmerizing, and fantastically indigestible. In advance of its three-year closure for renovation, SFMoMA began showing The Clock 24-hours per day, inviting museum patrons to participate in a form of endurance art: how much can you watch before your body gives out?
A man asks what time it is. A woman, from another movie, answers. Someone looks at their watch; when they look up, they are someone else, somewhere else, but at the same moment of the day. Scenes hop from black and white to color, from noisy city streets to curtain-drawn bedrooms. Famous actors go from young to old in a matter of hours. A door opening in one movie is a portal into the next. Chase scenes spill across decades as a cornucopia of film stars manically eye their watches, obsessed with the passage of time. Wrist watches, cuckoo clocks, digital alarms, sun dials, giant clock-faced monuments, tiny displays in cars; times printed in newspapers, mentioned in conversation, or merely implied. People waking up, dressing, eating, leaving, arriving, meeting, chasing, fleeing, waiting, all with elapsing seconds weighing upon them, stepping them through an unavoidable yet arbitrary chaos.
With such a rigid conceit and limitless source material, the film threatens to collapse in unwatchable nonsense. Yet patterns emerge. Time plays a more important role in thrillers than in comedies. Train stations are inherently agitating. Some movies are obvious (Nick of Time, High Noon), as are some themes, like people waking to alarms in the morning. Less obvious is how long it takes everyone to wake up, underscoring how habitually out of synch we are, despite the shared time reference. I watched the installation from 10:45 AM to 1:30 PM in one sitting, then 7:15 AM to 10:45 AM in another; characters were climbing out of bed that entire time. Tension mounts as the top of each hour approaches, dipping into calm by a quarter past. The audio track plays a crucial role in orienting the viewer, with voices or sounds from the next scene beginning just slightly before the cut to cue the transition.
Movies appear and disappear so quickly, I had trouble placing even the ones I had seen. Perhaps someday Marclay will release an index; until then we must rely on ineffectual attempts to catalog them ourselves. Having seen only a chunk of it, I'm fascinated to see more. It reaches beyond the exercise of showing clock after clock; it chronicles a century of cinema, and exposes ad nauseum our modern obsession with time.
For more information on the artist and film, read Daniel Zalewski's excellent 2012 article in The New Yorker.
(My girlfriend's mother commented that the film would make a nice wall clock hanging in a living room, a perpetual and cryptic time piece. I'm just hoping that someday it will be released to home video.)