The Atomic Café is a fabulous piece of film history and I really wanted to bring it into my Cold War unit, but I couldn’t quite figure out how. Made late in the Cold War, it mixes newsreel footage, military training films, advertisements, popular music and other primary sources to show the depth of American Cold War paranoia and how the Cold War was a part of everyday life for Americans. The film is 88 minutes long, and while I know some teachers who showed the entire film, I showed a long clip from the middle (chapters 3-11) to take up most of a block class.
Positives: The actual footage is fabulous. Students doing bomb drills, families creating bomb shelters, and actual footage of nuclear tests are images students will not easily forget. It is also a great piece of dark humor, showing the absurdity of the times and the destructive power of the bomb.
Negatives: It is made with a very particular political aim and basically makes Cold War-era Americans look crazy and misguided—it will need to be accompanied by a lot of explanation to put it in perspective. It is also not divided up into clear chapters, so deciding what to show and what not to show can be difficult. Finally, it is black and white footage, which many students find off-putting and inherently boring.