CinePunked goes rummaging through the film archives via acclaimed Cold War documentary The Atomic Café, revealing a frightening concoction of propaganda, deception, delusion, and fear linked by America’s presentation of the perceived benefits and risks of the atomic bomb and a nuclear war. With memories of the cold war stirred up in 2022 by recent action in eastern Europe we find ourselves wondering if anything has really changed in the last eight decades…
With Robert JE Simpson, Dr Rachael Kelly, Neil Sedgewick and Ben ‘Blademan’ Simpson.
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Episode URL: https://player.whooshkaa.com/episode?id=980969
At CinePunked we’ve frequently stated our intention to use film as a means to opening up difficult conversations, and it was with that in mind that we find ourselves turning to The Atomic Café.
I first encountered the film as a young 20-something, in among a mountain of documentary material I had found on nuclear tests. As grim as much of that footage had been, the laissez-faire approach of many of the governmental films featured in the documentary shook me. Contrary to my understanding of nuclear bombs being a VERY BAD THING, here we had officials telling us how wonderful the bomb was and how grateful we should be for its spectacular destructive capabilities. That’s a shock that comes through on the pod.
When the pandemic hit in 2020 we reworked a live show we were developing into ‘How to Survive the Apocalypse… According to the Movies‘. A tongue-in-cheek response to the very real fear that was gripping us at the time. So it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that we turned once again to cinema to help us through the growing fear of a potential nuclear Armageddon in 2022 as Russia decimates Ukraine.
When I first suggested the film to the group, Neil texted me to tell me he was worried that it might set off his anxieties, but bravely he soldiered on.
Neil, Rachael and I grew up during part of the Cold War, where Russia and America were constantly looking down the barrel of each other’s guns. And yet that hasn’t made the recent developments any easier to swallow. The gap has allowed the possibilities to grow ever more deadly. The Atomic Cafe helps clarify how America was fed that information, at least in the pre-Vietnam era, and allows us all to reflect on disinformation and propaganda that we are fed in 2022.
While it is tempting to be poo-faced when it comes to something as awful as nuclear war, the humour that comes through the film also speaks to a black humour which exists within Northern Irish culture – as a country that has lived through decades of trauma we know that we need to find some space to laugh in order to give relief. Resnais’ Night and Fog tells the story of the WWII concentration camps in a suitably sombre manner, but to pretend that there have never been jokes about the holocaust told by those it affected would be misleading (‘Springtime for Hitler’ anyone?).
At the start of the pandemic we were forced to put on ice a show about humour and taste – CinePunked’s Offensive Comedy Kitten – and it seems to me that the very question about the appropriateness of the black humour in The Atomic Café would feed into that discussion (which we still hope to run) well.
For me, anything that forces us to address our fears head on is a good thing, and I hope that some of you will be tempted to hunt down the film itself.
At the time of publishing a complete version of the film is on YouTube. While the film itself consists of much public domain material, it is unclear whether the uploading of the film has been sanctioned by its producers so we leave you to search for it yourselves.
Do let us know what you think of it.
‘Duck and Cover’ includes excerpts from
The Atomic Cafe (dir. Kevin Rafferty, Jayne Loader and Pierce Rafferty, 1982). Distributed by Libra Films .
Available on Blu-ray from Kino Lober in the USA.
Goldeneye (dir. Martin Campbell, 1995). Distributed by MGM/UK and Universal International Pictures
Available on streaming services and Blu-Ray from Sony Pictures.
The CinePunked theme music is ‘Riding the Synth‘ – © 2020, Ben Blademan Simpson. Used with permission.
Episode recorded in Comber, Dundonald, Holywood and Newtownards, Northern Ireland on 22 March 2022.
Engineered and edited by Robert JE Simpson. First published on 17 April 2022.