The Atomic Cafe Blu-ray Review: How I Learned to Keep Worrying and Fear the Bomb

When conversing of satire about our deepest, troubling fear about potential nuclear catastrophe, Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 masterpiece, Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, seemed for its time the only cinematic representation of very bleak humor of nuclear proportions. However, if there’s one film that matches it for extremely black comedy, or ever betters it, it is the 1982 cult-classic documentary, The Atomic Cafe, which does the derision in such an absurd way that it actually remains as alarmingly vital as it obviously was almost 40 years ago.

Mixed with Cold War blasphemy (or propaganda), music and culture, and told through a series of educational and poorly acted training films, newsreels, and advertisements, the film weirdly encourages society on how to deal with the Atomic Age, how to survive the apocalypse, and how to win the nuclear war. It does start off as highly disturbing as we watch in horror the effects of nuclear harm as bombs are dropped in Japan and severely injures many of its citizens. Then, it just delves into sheer comic insanity with demonstrations of “Duck and Cover,” instructions of living in fallout shelters, and hilariously posing in nuclear apparel. With this, you don’t know whether to scream in horror and skepticism, or howl with laughter because of what you’re seeing in the film doesn’t seem to be too far-fetched, especially of what’s going on in the world today.

Filmmakers Kevin Rafferty, Jayne Loader & Pierce Rafferty also dare to show the nation’s most controversial speechmakers, including President Truman, as they are seen laughing, which makes them come off as salacious, not human. You just can’t take these so-called progressors seriously as they make you actually wish that doomsday would come so you don’t have to see nor hear them ever again, and that definitely includes the current President, who by-the-way, did absolutely nothing to disarm North Korea’s nuclear program. I’m sorry for including this but I’m just saying what I’m thinking, and I know that this doesn’t pertain to this review and the film itself. Sometimes, you just have to express your feelings, I guess.

Anyhoo, the folks at Kino and IndieConnect did an amazing job with the new 4K restoration, and it looks and sounds like it was just released yesterday. The special features consist of a selection of Government Propaganda Films (Courtesy of The Prelinger Archives), Filmwax Radio Interview with the Rafferty’s and Loader, Audio excerpts from Loader’s CD-ROM Public Shelter (1995), and an anniversary Trailer.

I had seen this cult doc several years ago, and I admit I was off-put by some of the elements, but seeing it now, I have to leave my judgment at the door because it may be one of the most essential films, documentary or otherwise, in the history of Cinema. It’s a film that everyone should see at some point in their life, since it showcases what we truly fear the most: the end of us all.


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