Sunday, February 05, 2006

When We Went To See the End Of the World (Again)

from Kolchak:

I honestly wasn't planning to do a follow-up to my post about American Cold War propaganda. Just before the end of last year, though, four short films from that period were added to Comcast’s on-demand library. So I decided to take the hint.

Like many people, I had seen snippets of Duck and Cover in the 1982 documentary Atomic Cafe But this was the first time I was able to see it in its entirety. At this point, I’m glad I didn't see Duck and Cover while I was growing up. Maybe kids were tougher back in 1951-- when this was originally released--but I think it would scare a lot of modern children.

(I was in elementary school during the late 1950s and the early ‘60s but I do not remember doing any drills to prepare for an atomic attack. My Dad brought home plans to build a fallout shelter, but construction never got beyond that point. I do remember hearing the grown-ups talk about the Cuban Missile Crisis, but their attitude boiled down to “We’re gonna get those Russkies,” which is frightening only in retrospect.)

Duck and Cover starts innocently enough, with animated character Burt theTurtle demonstrating how to duck and cover. (After the last several months, seeing Civil Defense represented by a turtle seems almost prophetic. Or maybe just pathetic.) And the warnings from the narrator are relatively low key at
first. If an atomic bomb goes off without warning, he says, it could “knock you down hard or throw you against a tree or wall.”

Later, though, he says that the bomb “could come at any time, no matter whereyou may be.” Then the narrator says, “The bomb might explode when there are no grown-ups near.” By the time he tells us that “Tony knows the bomb can explode any time of the year, day or night, and he is ready for it,” all I could think was: And Tony hasn't been out of his house since 1963.

The other shorts were aimed more at adults and try to make the point that the recommendations they were making would be effective. The narrator in Survival Under Atomic Attack (also made in 1951) claims that “If the people of Nagasaki and Hiroshima knew what we know about civil defense, thousands of lives would have been saved.”

But here’s the bad news: atomic war isn't going get you any time off from your job. “Our cities are prime targets for atomic attack,” the narrator states, “but mass evacuation would be disastrous. An enemy would like nothing better than to have us leave our cities empty and unproductive. If an emergency should come, our factories will be battle stations. Production must go on, if we are to win.”

Survival Under Atomic Attack was also the title of the booklet I wrote about last time, incidentally, but I'm not sure whether there are any other connections.

As the title suggests, You Can Beat the A-Bomb, also promotes the idea that preparing for the bomb to drop will make a difference. To help support that point, the film tries to show how common radiation is. There's a scene where a Kindly Old Janitor, in a lab of some sort, provokes a reaction from a Geiger counter. A Kindly Young Scientist explains that the device is reacting to the radium on
the face of his wrist watch.

“What do you know about that?” Kindly Old Janitor says with an amused chuckle. “I've been carrying radiation around with me and I didn't even know it.”

You Can Beat the A-Bomb stands out from the other shorts because it uses actors to deliver some of the information, not just a narrator. Some of the film follows a family as it responds to an enemy attack. The family consists of Dad, his wife, Elsie; their son, Joe, and their teenage daughter, Meg, and they are definitely products of their time. Dad wears a business suit throughout the movie, except for
one scene, when he exchanges his jacket for a pair of coveralls. He keeps his tie on when he switches to the coveralls, and it is always tied in a perfect Windsor knot. Meg does her best to look like Annette Funicello, with a tight sweater and a nosecone bra.

Dad remains confident and in charge throughout the attack. He tells the others, “I'll give the signal when its okay to get up,” and announces that the radiation, “went straight up into the air. The terrific heat makes it do that.

“Nothing to do now but wait for orders from the authorities and relax,” he concludes.

Interestingly, both Survival Under Atomic Attack and You Can Beat the A-Bomb refer to airplane spotters warning the public of any attack. How enemy bombers would reach us is not clear. And You Can Beat... was produced in cooperation with the curiously-named Council On Atomic Implications.

Fallout, the fourth and final film, was made roughly 10 years after the others, and wasn't afraid to make radiation menacing. The movie opens with a passage of theremin music, which was a vital component of science fiction movies for years. This time, the narrator says that the purpose of the film is to explain what radiation is “how to detect it and how to protect yourself against it. Yes, this means you.”

The rest of the film is devoted to fairly detailed instructions on how to build a fallout shelter. I was pleased to learn that, if you cant line your shelter with sandbags,“thick, solid layers of books, magazines or newspapers” will work nicely.

If books block radiation, this house is secure.


Diane said...

I grew up near a major air force base, so in addition to all the other stuff, the teachers used to tell us that we would be an early and significant target for the bomb.

Later, as a teenager, I did some volunteer work, and the offices for the organization I worked for were in the underground shelters that had never been used.

Anonymous said...

You can download "Atomic Cafe" soundtrack here (86.5 Mb, .rar archive)
It'll be there only for two weeks.

The soundtrack was never re-released since 1982 due to some copyright problems. This means you won't be able to find it in a legal store. So, please, don't start a flame about copyrights, ok?

Just listen to the music -- it is GREAT!!!,+soundtrack+-OST-__2006-02-08_OST_Atomic_Cafe.rar