There is no denying the state of the world is nearly boiling over with insecurity and anxiety thanks to the instability of America’s leadership. Coupled with that existential distress is the absolute naive idea that the current hellscape is just a lapse; it’ll all pass as soon as we lift our heads from cover. Sound familiar? With the heightened intensity of political affairs, an astonishing documentary from 1982, “The Atomic Cafe,” is being rereleased for audiences to see in new restoration.
Here’s a bit of history about the seminal doc. Directed and released in 1982 by Jayne Loader, Kevin Rafferty, and Pierce Rafferty, “The Atomic Cafe” is a cult classic documentary juxtaposing the history of the Cold War, propaganda, music and culture of the time. More recently, the film’s new 4K restoration was an Official Selection at the SXSW 2018 Film Festival. The film’s restoration is provided by IndieCollect with Kino Lorbor Repertory distributing the re-release.
“The Atomic Cafe” was painstakingly crafted from government-produced educational and training films, newsreels and advertisements – and shows how the government tried to sell the atomic bomb to the American public. Taken together, these sources cheerily instruct the public on how to live in the Atomic Age, how to survive a nuclear attack, and how to fight and win a nuclear war. The movie, strung together with all vintage footage in narrative form, shows how easily the government manipulated a frightened and trusting public.
In 2016, the film was selected for preservation in the United States’ National Film Registry by the Library of Congress, being deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” With the film’s re-release this year, it is a poignant note to make on the urgency of revisiting history. So much of the world’s current affairs harp on fear mongering that moments of reflection are few and far between given the anxiety inflicted by each new day. “Atomic Cafe” offers audiences to explore parts of our complicated past that exam the patterns of fear and disillusionment.
Critics have marked the film’s timelessness and its relevance. With Michael Argesta of The Texas Observer saying in his review, “As a viewing experience, however, The Atomic Cafe is much more than the sum of its archival parts. Its deepest impact is not as advocacy or preservation, but as an immersion in the sinister yet silly, weird yet all-too-familiar world of postwar nuclear Americana. It never feels too distant, despite the years, perhaps because both careless stewardship of the bomb and surreal official propaganda seem to be making a comeback.”
Before watching the trailer, take a look at this interview with David Letterman from March of 1982. Here, Letterman talks to Jayne Loader and Pierce Rafferty about the film and how they came to make bring the subject to the screen.
The new restoration opens on August 1 in New York at Film Forum for a limited engagement followed by a national rollout. Here’s the official brand-new trailer: