As recent documentaries such as Zero Day and Command and Control have reminded us, nuclear weapons are out there, our infrastructure is crumbly, and our status can change from “potentially hosed” to “kinetically fucked” at any second. Therefore, it’s an appropriate time for a return of Jayne Loader, Kevin Rafferty, and Pierce Rafferty’s 1982 montage The Atomic Café, now glowier than ever thanks to a restoration by the 5K Kinetta Archival Scanner. Feature films shot in 35mm or 70mm for public consumption are fine with 4K restorations, but this collection of ephemeral 16mm footage shot primarily for military or propaganda use in the 1940s and 1950s deserves that fifth K. (Duck and Cover will certainly never look better.)
Lacking narration or other exposition, The Atomic Café looks at how both the American military and public responded to the rise of atomic weapons and energy in the mid-20th century. It’s often hilarious and frightening, because of how little we understood about atomic energy and how cheerfully the public accepted its terrors. The restoration also raises fascinating new questions — like, what in the name of Sir Alger Hiss was happening with Robert Stipling’s eyes during the 1948 Nixon microfilm press conference? How did we not notice that before? The Atomic Café’s half-life is far from over.
Opens Friday at the Roxie Theater.