The Atomic Cafe

Military scientists eagerly crawl around a tangle of thin metal beams and girders as a crane very gingerly hoists the first atom bomb into place for testing. The candid, grainy footage is capturing mankind at a blissfully ignorant moment in time. Developing the most powerful piece of firepower the world had ever seen up to that point was never halted by the thought that it might be a bad idea.

KinoLorber has just released a beautiful 4K restoration of The Atomic Cafe and this brilliantly crafted archive of United States Government propaganda films is more timely now than ever before. Jayne Loader, Kevin Rafferty, Pierce Rafferty’s shockingly hilarious film stands as a remarkable document of a chapter in U.S. history. Meant to calm a frightened public in the age of the atom bomb, the footage spins a linear narrative beginning with the first tests, to the effect that this key piece of arsenal had on Japan and World War II.

America was heading, full bore into the atomic age and, after a show-stopping success in the Pacific Theater, there was nothing that was going to stop it. Not even the horrifying reality that this new bomb, equal to 20,000 tons of TNT left a legacy of poisonous nuclear residue that lingered long after the blast.

“…far more interested in the darker effects that unchallenged power had on the United States than they are at poking fun of the blatant lies…”

“Well, I guess there’s nothing for us to worry about.” Says an actor in one of the many clips of political morality plays,  “We’re the ones that have the bomb.” The redundant message in nearly all of the newsreels was to simply to not worry, yet be prepared with such measures as the classic “Duck and Cover” maneuver, or a well-stocked fallout shelter. In one clip a head-to-toe lead suit is modeled by a young boy. Resembling a life-size oven mitt, the happy tike hops onto his bike and demonstrates how easy going to school would be despite nuclear fallout.

Loader and the Rafferty’s are far more interested in the darker effects that unchallenged power had on the United States than they are at poking fun of the blatant lies the government was feeding the public. The parade of clips continues as the United States pushes forward with the development of the hydrogen bomb. Rallying the public with staged interviews, it seems that the everyman is perfectly fine with an even more devastating tool on other countries for lesser conflicts.

While the footage is one hundred percent archival and newsreel material, the 4K restoration was certainly worth the effort. The screen seems to teem with life, swirling with the uneven film grain. To the use of music and audio clips stays clear, without modernizing and losing the vintage sound.

As funny as it is frightening, The Atomic Cafe is a genius, tongue-in-cheek retrospective of a far less cynical time, and the lies that the government used at the time to justify their new power. After all, you just have to duck and cover. Right?

The Atomic Cafe 4K Restoration (1982) Directed by Jayne Loader, Kevin Rafferty, Pierce Rafferty.

10 out of 10 stars

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