The documentary “The Atomic Cafe” was released way back in 1982, but that doesn’t matter, this movie is timeless. There’s no narration, no interviews, no subjective opinions about nuclear power and atomic weapons. The entire documentary is made up of old public services announcements, news real footage, and military training films. It’s all pieced together to create a pretty interesting look back to a time when atomic energy wasn’t so much a science, but rather a test in bravery and stupidity. You know all those times you had to listen to grandpa talk about the good old days? Well, it turns out that grandpa was full of shit.
The movie starts with the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and from there it spirals out of control into the cold war. If you’re as fascinated with the Cold War and the Nuclear Arms Race as I am, then you’ll probably get a kick out of these old clips. Families dress up in full fallout gear, complete with crazy scary gas masks. Soldiers stare stupidly into nuclear blasts, mouth agape to catch all of the irradiated dirt that’s blown their way. Native islanders from Bikini Atoll are convinced to leave their nice little tropical paradise so that the U.S. Army can blow it to smithereens (with the power of the atom!). Plus, there’s more footage of gigantic explosions than you can shake a stick at.
After watching The Atomic Cafe, I felt a lot better about my lot in life. Sure, today we have to worry about shoe bombers and exploding underwear on airplanes, but these stupid sacks, they had to worry about total nuclear annihilation! And how did they cope with this horrifying threat? They drank a lot. So next time your watching Mad Men and you’re all like, “Jeez, Don’s such a scumbag for cheating on Betty” give the guy a break. Alcohol makes people do stupid things, and the Cubans have the goddamn bomb!
If you’re used to the usual, run-of-the-mill documentaries, with the production values, and the voiceovers, and what have you, then you might be a little bit bored by The Atomic Cafe. But if you’re into American history, atomic bombs, the cold war, or just interested in learning about the overwhelming ignorance which was so prevalent during the 1950s and 60s, you should probably give this movie a go, and remember, in case of a nuclear attack, just duck and cover. Duck and cover.
I give The Atomic Cafe: 4 megatons (out of 5 megatons)