Coming to NYC’s Stranger Than Fiction tonight, Tuesday, May 29:
THE ATOMIC CAFE
Kevin Rafferty, Jayne Loader, and Pierce Rafferty
Film Forum (March 1982)
SXSW 2018 (restoration premiere)
A compilation of clips from the first decades of the nuclear era reveal an undercurrent of denial and anxiety.
Newly restored in 4K, this cult classic documentary traces the history of nuclear armaments and their impact on American society, as filtered through government propaganda, news footage, and advertisements from the 1940s through the early 1960s. Eschewing narration, text cards, or any contextual details, the filmmakers instead construct a collage in roughly chronological order, trusting viewers to acknowledge the absurdity of the touted safety of nuclear preparedness training such as the infamous “duck and cover” campaign, particularly when juxtaposed with images of radiation poisoning and devastation from Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and tests in the Pacific. Covering the end of WWII through the middle of the Cold War, the film demonstrates the insidiousness of state-driven attempts to simultaneously ramp up fear of the Communist threat yet soften concerns about the aftermath of a seemingly inevitable nuclear war, instilling complacency about the atomic age. Viewed in hindsight, the material is often darkly humorous, but nervously so, and all too relevant in an era of fake news and government distrust and instability.