The Atomic Café Review

A collage of instructional films, period newsreels and government-sponsored propaganda that seeks to show how Washington not only prepared the American people for a possible Armageddon, but also attempted to convince them that it would win a post-nuclear peace.

by David Parkinson |
Published on
Release Date:

30 Mar 1982

Running Time:

112 minutes



Original Title:

Atomic Café , The

Little dates an era faster than its propaganda. Yet many of the attitudes informing the clips in this ghoulishly amusing Cold War compilation still appear to have a fundamental part to play in the selling of contemporary American foreign policy.

    The project started out as a documentary about American propaganda in general and directors Jayne Loader and Kevin and Pierce Rafferty had trawled through 10,000 films before they decided to focus on what started out as an ideological crusade against the Soviet Union and finally turned into an apocalyptic terror campaign that had citizens of all ages and political persuasions convinced of the Red Menace's intention to nuke the States to the Stone Age.

    Initially, the trio was pressurised by its backers into including talking head material to bring stories up to date, but this idea was eventually dropped in favour of a vérité approach to the footage, which was edited according to the principles of photomontage artists like John Heartfield and Robert Coover and such film-makers as Emile de Antonio, Bruce Conner and Philippe Mora. Consequently, the viewer is bombarded with excerpts, which become ever-more chillingly preposterous in their arrogance, rectitude and naivete.

     Nuclear proliferation is, of course, a deadly serious issue. But it's impossible to avoid the unintentional humour in the jingoistic platitudes and patronising exortations contained in shorts that range from the hectoringly sombre to the absurdly upbeat. Yet while messages like `Duck and Cover' (which came complete with a catchy theme tune) now seem risibly ineffectual, they nevertheless demonstrate the ease with which regimes can exploit the trust of imperilled peoples in order to manipulate opinion. Watching this film in conjunction with more recent outings like Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism and Orwell Rolls in His Grave will soon wipe the smile off your face.

Interesting mainly as a historical curiousity.
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