Using material from a number of radio programs, cartoons, military instruction films and propaganda reels “informing” the people about nuclear warfare, The Atomic Cafe shows how the American government and the media tried to sway public opinion in the 1950s. Without exception the footage had a reassuring tone that sought to disguise the horrible effects of nuclear weapons from the public.
In this compilation, however, the source material loses its intended effect, instead evoking a completely contrary response: we experience the film as absurd and even extremely cynical. This reversal of meaning is achieved entirely through our shifted perspective and the brilliant editing of the original footage.
Released in 1982, as the Reagan administration was proposing to expand the American nuclear arsenal, the film dealt an unexpected blow to the image of the government. Large crowds flocked to the cinema to watch this piece of sublime satire, and the film was quite successful abroad, too.