Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Only a Tick-Tock Away: the use of clocks in Neighbours

Clock props are useful development devices for particularly pressing plotlines in soap operas. They orient temporal awareness and signify danger, but just how striking is their symbolism?



Last week on Neighbours UK there was a radical real-time episode focusing on Detective Mark Brennan’s untimely yet ‘timed’ departure as he fled from police force harassment into the arms of a witness protection scheme. There was a race against the clock impetus to the episode as ex-girlfriend-cum-girlfriend and guardian, Kate, had to first decide and then persuade her unimpressed little sister, Sophie, to join Brennan with her in time for his on the dot car pick-up. Although each scene will have taken significantly longer to produce, each minute of acting we see on the screen works out as the same minute of storyline which the characters are experiencing. The Tension was assembled via the use of darkness (Ramsey Street is usually eternally light); rain (which was actually real and unplanned in the filming but Ramsey Street is usually eternally sunny); unnecessary but realistic routine hiccups such as Lou fussing over dessert choices, Jade losing her shampoo and Sophie slipping in a puddle; ticking clocks galore and the convincing acting of anguished emotions – particularly by Ashleigh Brewer, who plays Kate. She misses the drive away deadline by seconds, before discernibly displaying her onslaught of distress at her inopportune loss. In the following episode, Kate’s grief and frustration is acted with subtlety and impressive believability. Brennan tended to be both banal and anal as a character (although apparently popular eye candy with female viewers), yet this didn’t seem to matter by the time we are sucked into Kate’s agony over his absence.


Kate finally says she loves Brennan but to her little sister, not to him.

Kate and Brennan screenshots: split tensions, ‘fade-in’ dreams (see what I did there?)

Yesterday, clocks and watches (the watch - a delectable Diesel one, in fact) were used again for Lucas’s storyline involving his Dad’s death and his reluctant anxiety around whether to attend the funeral of the parent he says referred to him as someone who has ‘always stuffed up’. It is revealed to the audience through a conversation Paul has with Lucas that the funeral is at one o’clock. There is then a pre-funeral garage montage with Lucas doing things which car mechanics do*, perhaps mechanically (like clockwork?), to a sultry sound track, tense eyebrow lowers and cuts to the garage clock as time ticks by. There is even a split scene tri-screen of: the wall clock, Lucas’s funeral suit and Lucas looking vexed. Yet the episode wasn’t in real-time, minute by minute, because we see sporadic shots of the big hand of the clock beat through morning and early afternoon. Also, conversely, the clock shots don’t work to invoke the pressure of a lack of available time in the given situation. Lucas has time to get to the funeral parlour; the question is whether he wants to and what it might mean to him if he does or if he doesn’t.


I've an eye for a retro, square faced watch (evidently - to the point where I can be bothered to screenshot it)

In this sense, the clock signifies a less immediate kind of tension - the long term trauma and effects of being inadequately parented. Each time Lucas looks at the clock and, actor, Scott Major, conveys plausible torment and convincing depths of indecisiveness through watery eyes, our attention is drawn to the concept of time passing, of how it manifests itself, of imminent mortality and of how to use the time we have to the best of our abilities and sensibilities. Yes, it’s deep stuff for a daytime drama, but then you can never take the opera out of soap opera.


Time for Lucas to smarten up?

Whilst the real-time Neighbours episode was niftily executed and presented, the utilisation of clocks was more necessary than it was nuanced. In this more recent episode, the clocks seem to work to symbolise a character’s misspent life span. Lucas is damaged goods, really.** Unlike Kate, and since buddy Brennan disappeared without warning, he doesn’t seem to have anyone to whom he can turn. In this episode, the clocks, along with Paul’s mention of Lucas’s unrequitedly estranged ex, Elle, have re-anchored the viewer’s attention on this factor. The clock prop points to Lucas's past and present experiences and decisions, but, in its doing so, we are inadvertently forced to consider how his future may pan out in following episodes. I’ll keep watch.***

*it looks quite fun. Time to give up my day job and re-train??
**which is why he’s more interesting than Brennan
***but not the Diesel one.

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