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May 13, 2011

Movie Review: The Atomic Cafe (1982)

This film needs to be required viewing for every American. It’s that powerful and that persuasive and it is comprised solely from American nuclear propaganda films and news footage. It is a testament to how we, as Americans, will use whatever we can to win at all costs and, in the same token, how we as Americans will panic when we are faced with the consequences of using that power. The Atomic Café is a testament to how fear works on us: fear spread by our leaders, the media and our own ignorance… and how allaying that fear is as simple as forcing children to sing a song about ducks and covers. The Atomic Café is a uniquely American film that pulls no punches, but it doesn’t rely on a celebrity narrator, or reenactments. It doesn’t rely on half-baked theories or conspiracies. The Atomic Café is us, in our own words, stitched together so we can see the story, in total.

Buy The Atomic Cafe or watch the entire film below.

Spanning approximately fifteen years, The Atomic Café tells the story of our nuclear birth. Footage from the 1945 Trinity atomic bomb tests all the way through the middle of 1960, America’s love affair with the bomb, and the subsequent break up that saw average American families scrambling into underground bunkers and worrying whether or not the power that was unleashed on Japan at the end of World War II would be turned on us by our Superpower enemies. The Atomic Café, though, remains neutral. It does not have an overt point because the entirety of the film is found footage edited together. The Trinity tests, the aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, American propaganda extolling the virtues of the bomb… all of these, in their original formats, are edited in a linear timeline. What The Atomic Café does, though, is paint a picture of abject carelessness as the United States dislocated indigenous tribes of islanders, promising them that ‘all would be well’ in actual atomic test footage or put American soldiers in the middle of atomic blasts, after reassuring them of its safety, simply to test the affects. As the film reaches the 1950s, though, the country’s attitude changes as other countries develop nuclear weaponry. The change is shocking as newsreel footage celebrates the atomic end of World War II and cuts, abruptly, to emergency broadcast footage of an animated turtle singing ‘Duck and Cover’ to make sure that school children clambered underneath their desks to avoid the coming atomic Armageddon.

The Atomic Café works best when the viewer can shake off the notion that those crazy people from the 1950s were afraid of everything! The film works very, very well when we can equate what we perceive to be the naïve foolishness of the atomic age with our modern reactions to terrorism or massive pandemics that never really seem to happen. If we can just get through our thick skulls that fear has been the primary motivation to get Americans to do anything (vote, buy duct tape, put up walls, racially profile, etc.) and that fear is propagated by the people that are supposedly leading us we will be a stronger nation. Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it… and in America, we have very short memories.

1 comment:

  1. Great review, David and you are right on the money about a film like this still being relevant. More now than ever.