In Memoriam 1942 – 2013 “Roger Ebert loved movies.”

RogerEbert.com

Thumb large ouygaatyh4jzithj6fi3uyf31ri

Wonder

You’ll shed a tear or two—especially if you’re a parent—and they’ll be totally earned.

Thumb mv5bztg3yteznjytzty2ns00yjnmltlhnjutzti2m2e5ndi4m2njxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymzi3mdezmzm . v1 sy1000 cr0 0 675 1000 al

Mudbound

The film invites us to observe its characters, to hear their inner voices, to see what they see and to challenge our own preconceived notions…

Other Reviews
Review Archives
Thumb xbepftvyieurxopaxyzgtgtkwgw

Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

Other Reviews
Great Movie Archives
Other Articles
Chaz's Journal Archives
Other Articles
Channel Archives

Reviews

The Atomic Cafe

  |  

I was an exact contemporary of those kids in this old documentary footage. I was in grade school from 1948 to 1956, the years when America began to learn to live with the bomb. Life magazine ran blueprints for fallout shelters, and Estes Kefauver barnstormed the nation with warnings about strontium 90 in the milk supply. Did I really once sing "Duck and Cover,' or do I only think I did?

It hardly matters. "The Atomic Cafe" is a chilling memory of life in the first years under the mushroom umbrella. There was a brief national euphoria after Hiroshima and Nagasaki (I can barely remember my father explaining to me that, because America had the atomic bomb, there would never have to be another war). But soon the Russians had the bomb, too, and since they were godless communists, it was obviously only a matter of time until war broke out.

Advertisement

Fallout shelters were presented as the answer. As late as the early 1960s, under President John F. Kennedy, it was seriously proposed that a shelter program would act as a deterrent to war, since the Russians would realize "we" would survive a nuclear attack. No doubt this is still official theory, although a story the other day reported that the foodstuffs in the shelters in most federal buildings have long since decayed, spoiled or been ravaged by rats.

The makers of "The Atomic Cafe" sifted through thousands of feet of Army films, newsreels, government propaganda films and old television broadcasts to come up with the material in their film, which is presented without any narration, as a record of same of the ways in which the bomb entered American folklore. There an songs, speeches politicians, and frightening documentary footage of guinea-pig American troops shielding themselves from an atomic Mast and then exposing themselves to radiation neither they nor their officers understood.

My memories of that time suggest that nuclear destruction seemed frightening enough as a possibility but in "The Atomic Cat" you can see the government trying to trivialize it Why should 85 percent of the population worry about the bomb one spokesman asks, when only 15 percent of the population would be killed in it?

The most heartbreaking scenes in the movie show grade- and high-school students participating in civil defense programs. Girls in home ec classes display their canned goods designed for nuclear survival, and it is clear from their faces that they have no clue of how they would survive nuclear war, and little hope of doing so. Kids are lectured by authority figures in shots from educational films, but it must hardly have been reassuring to learn of your "chances" in a nuclear war.

If this movie has a message beyond its obvious one (that nuclear war will be devastating and our civil defenses pathetic) it is a rather more subtle one. It acts as a reminder that, in the 1950s the government at least spent a good deal of its resources on addressing the possibility of nuclear war, however uselessly. Today, the government maintains a discreet silence about this awesome and awful subject. When was the last time you heard anything at all about fallout shelters or civil defense?

Popular Blog Posts

Why I Stopped Watching Woody Allen Movies

Stop watching movies made by assholes. It'll be OK.

Who do you read? Good Roger, or Bad Roger?

This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...

Tears of a Machine: The Humanity of Luv in "Blade Runner 2049"

No character in “Blade Runner 2049” is more relatably human than Luv.

“Call of Duty” and “Wolfenstein” Redefine the Modern WWII Game

A review of two of the biggest games of 2017, a pair that use World War II in very different ways.

Reveal Comments
comments powered by Disqus