40 Minutes (1985)

Concept and creative process

‘40 Minutes’ was a documentary series broadcast between 1981 and 1994. The films covered a wide range of subjects, the only criteria being that they lasted for 40 minutes. The subjects included the vanished world of Yorkshire miners, the Outcasts biker club, three Brits competing in the Sumo World Championships and 48 hours in the life of the Angel tube station. The titles therefore had to be content neutral and an effort was made to avoid the obvious clichés of clock faces, ticking hands and swinging pendulums. Instead Marcel Duchamp’s famous ready-made, ‘Objects to be Destroyed’, which featured a metronome with an eye attached to it, was the inspiration. This showed a different record of time that also had a strangely mesmerising quality to it. The twist was that at the start of the title sequence, the eye remained closed, only opening in the final seconds, suggesting that ‘40 Minutes’ would open your eyes to the wonders around you. A model of a contemporary version of Duchamp’s metronome was made. An opening eye was filmed as live action separately and then the frames were printed out as a series photographs which could be attached to the arm of the metronome. This was then filmed as a stop-frame animation and music was specially composed by Carl Davis to match the beat.