Armageddon has never been so darkly funny as in The Atomic Cafe. This 1982 cult classic juxtaposes Cold War history, propaganda, music and culture, seamlessly crafted from government-produced educational and training films, newsreels and advertisements. Taken together, these sources instruct the public on how to live in the Atomic Age, how to survive a nuclear attack, how to fight and win a nuclear war. As a U.S. Army training film advises, “Viewed from a safe distance, the atomic bomb is one of the most beautiful sights ever seen by man.”
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”. Returning to theaters in a sparkling 4K digital restoration created by IndieCollect (where it newly screened for the first timefor SXSW audiences in March, 2018), The Atomic Cafe is an absurdist blast from the past.
Composed entirely of civil defense and propaganda films created by the U.S. military and other agencies, The Atomic Cafe exploded myths about nuclear weapons and landed the filmmakers on Late Night with David Letterman.
It created a sensation when it opened at the Film Forum in March 1982 and played around the country to capacity audiences, garnering extraordinary reviews, including from the New York Times, whose critic Vincent Canby called it “A stunner! Has one howling with laughter, horror and disbelief.”
With the White House hurling threats to use nuclear weapons, The Atomic Cafe is the perfect movie for our time––a darkly funny meditation on Armageddon. Using our government’s own films, it pulls back the curtain to expose how Americans were taught to “stop worrying and love the bomb.” A cute cartoon assures children that ducking under their desks will protect them from radiation. A U.S. Army officer asserts the atomic bomb is a beautiful sight “when viewed at a safe distance,” as we watch young soldiers running towards a mushroom cloud. With Cold War memes re-emerging in our public discourse, audiences will weep with laughter and pained recognition as they contemplate the deployment of “alternate facts,” then and now, to achieve a desired end.
Returning to theaters in a sparkling 4K digital restoration created by IndieCollect, The Atomic Cafe is an absurdist blast from the past that would be downright laughable if it weren’t so eerily relevant to our fake news present.