"The Atomic Cafe" -- anybody remember this?

Back in the early 80s, this film generated a lot of steam. (Link.)

Toeay, I’m unsure how relevant it is. Thoughts?

I saw it a couple years back via Netflix. I don’t recall a lot of details, but I remember it was somewhat strange (no through narrative) but very affecting. Definitely still worth checking out.

I love it, and have it on VHS, and dubbed onto DVD. It’s made entirely of documentary, movie, and TV footage from the period covered, cut together to achieve its effects. Although there is, significantly, no modern narration to tie it all together, the choices of clips and how they are cut together definitely give it a “voice”.

For instance, it cuts from an informational cartoon, telling how alpha and beta radiation are stopped by skin layers, and that you’ll only be irradiated if material gets in through a cut or is inhaled, to a reporter interviewing a soldier placed in a protective trench relatively near an air burst of an atomic bomb.

“Did you get a mouthful of dirt?”

“Yeah, we got a mouthful of dirt” (from facing toward the explosion).

Scary stuff.
There were also a lot of “fillers”, things having nothing to do directly with the story of the atomic bomb, but setting the period and the mood – clips of families eating dinner, watching TV, cruising on the road.

There was also one clip that, I suspect, the folks who made the film stumbled on and couldn’t help but use, even though it’s relevant to nothing in the film – it shows Vice President Richard Nixon “Ringing the bell for Mental Health”.
The film still packs an emotional punch. I was showing it to a friend who’s half Japanese, and they had me turn it off partway through.

Good overview Cal. You brought back memories of scenes I’d forgotten.

It’s relevant in that we still could still be blown up by an atomic bomb at any time, but even if that threat were reduced to zero, it doesn’t really matter if it’s relevant does it? It’s still a very entertaining documentary. I’ve seen several documentaries (On the Bowery and Shoah for instance) from other eras and they were good even though they were’t relevant. Most documentaries aren’t relevant to me anyway. I know you were asking in a general sense and didn’t mean to imply that it had to be relevant to be good.

I saw it when it was released and it’s the first documentary I recall seeing in the theater. It was a hot ticket and we barely got in before it sold out. Maybe it’s because this was in Kansas City and we had already been nuked in The Day After. Later it became a thing on late night cable shows like Night Flight, but that was my first exposure to the hilarious and freaky “Duck and Cover.”

Atomic Cafe is better, but I’d recommend Radio Bikini too for those interested.

ETA: Anyone else notice the ‘Atomic Cafe’ sign in Bartertown in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome?

he sold the DVD for a while in the bookstore/giftstores of the Smithsonian down in Washington DC, and I’m still kicking myself for not picking it up then. My current DVD copy is a dub from the VHS tape.

I actually saw this in the theater – it was big on the Art Cinema circuit in 1982-3. There was even a companion book (which I didn’t buy)

I saw it once around 94 or so on cable with my roommate and we sat through the whole thing mesmerized by it. A few years later I bought it on VHS.

It’s now available on DVD and Netflix has it (on DVD, not streaming).

Or you could just watch it now.


Absolutely. Saw it when first released, and maybe a decade later. An odd and impressive piece of work.

Having participated in “Duck and Cover” exercises in school in the 1950s, I really love this movie.

First documentary I saw at the movies, and still one of my favorites. We try to find and watch it every couple years.

I remember it, but haven’t seen it in 30 years. I should look into picking up a copy.

I’d been to Atomic Café.

I saw it when I was in college (late 80’s-early 90’s.) I thought it was great. I believe I’ve seen it at least once since then. Well worth watching.

I had it on VHS but haven’t seen it since my VCR died. A good example of using source material in an ironic way.

It’s shame no one else made documentaries in this style (wordlessly stitching together old footage) If you know of any, let me know. The book High Weirdness by Mail, introducing a supplier of old documentary footage, commented “Atomic Café got all the good stuff”.

I obtained uncut versions of some of the original shorts used for Atomic Café a couple of years ago, on two DVDs called “Atomic Shorts”. Worth having a look at:"


There’s another one like that called “Gizmo,” about all sorts of failed and/or weird inventions. A lot of footage of people trying to fly in various winged suits.