In Atmosphere the camera pans back and forth over a body of water at a varying tempo and most people assume that a camera operator is in charge. The final image of the film carries a great deal of significance. It opens up a gap between the film’s appearance and its reality; what it appears to be – what it imitates – is not an object or scene from everyday life, but a film. Atmosphere is not just an imitation, but an imitation of an imitation, a metafilm that plays with the viewers’ expectations about cinematic form.
—R. Bruce Elder, Image and Identity
Atmosphere posits a radical draining of the artist’s ego. The film, a singles 10-minute irregular back and forth pan of coastal landscape, is directed by nature: the final shot reveals that the movement of the camera is controlled by a wind-vane. The film is obviously related to Michael Snow’s Back and Forth (in its camera movement) and La Region Centrale (there is no one behind or in front of the camera) and can be thought of in terms of Bruce Elder’s thesis on the centrality of the photograph to Canadian experimental film. Elder identifies a tendency for these film structures to lead “away from what is actually given towards that which is furnished only by reflexive acts of consciousness: away from presence towards absence”. Atmosphere, as an occasion for this heightened “reflexive act of consciousness,” differs from the systematic, assertive strategies of Snow by further stripping away the controlling presence of the artist. Where in La Region Centrale Snow predetermines camera movement by computer programming his machine, and where Back and Forth the panning motion is systematic – a total effect, as Elder says, of “a form that unfolds over an extended period in a nearly predictable manner” Gallagher retreats, leaving camera movement to the uncertainty of the wind. Thus, although camera placement and movement are determined, the rhythm and pace of the panning are random and unpredictable. Gallagher also evacuates his compositional centre. The horizon of the seascape bisects the screen horizontally while the centre of the irregular panning (its median vertical axis) is a section of the flat sea framed by mountains on either side. The point of intersection of these two axes is the point of maximum emptiness. In contrast to the hysterical rage of Plastic Surgery, there is a tone of sadness to Atmosphere. – Jim Shedden, Michael Zryd, The Independent Eye
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