Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Nuclear War and Reactors in Film--Look to the Skies!

I'm working on a new chapter for my book. As always, a new chapter opens up new problems, new ideas, new things that must be considered. In this case, I've opened up Pandora's Box. This chapter might as well be a book unto itself. New material and new films are flying at me from all directions like wild saucers in a 1950s sci-fi film. If things keep going like this, I'll never finish my book!

In 1961 my mother and her friends Phyllis and Thalia were deeply involved in the Women Strike for Peace movement; they fought to end the testing of nuclear bombs in the U.S. and the building of a nuclear arsenal. They spoke as concerned "mothers" in a time when women were supposed to remain in the home and refrain from speaking up about political issues (especially war). This history is the launching pad for my chapter on mothers and environmentalism in film. Only two of the films I initially intended to discuss looked at the dangers of nuclear radiation (Silkwood and China Syndrome)....

Oh boy, (or should I say, oy vey). I soon realized that I had to read up more on the history of the Atom Bomb, the cold war, nuclear fission, the Cuban Missile Crisis, bomb testing, nuclear radiation and contamination, nuclear waste, and much more. I'm not nearly done. The topic is enormous. And, guess what? I quickly discovered that the topic of nukes in film is expansive: I've found about 40 films (mostly in the 1950s through mid 60s, as well as in the 1980s). These two periods seem to be obsessively concerned with the problem of nuclear disaster (especially the former period). Also, guess what? These films are really brilliant.

Yesterday, Nicole and I watched Five (1951)-a fascinating film about "The Day After" the world has been detonated with atom bombs. Only five people survived the detonation. This is their story. The film is rife with Biblical references to sin and rebirth. Today I watched The World, the Flesh and the Devil (1959), with Harry Belafonte as the protagonist. This film examines what happens to the three remaining people on earth after a nuclear disaster. Belafonte's character is black, while the other two characters include a white woman and a white man. The tension in the story centers on an anguished interracial and triangulated love. It is quite powerful--but the problem of radiation and nuclear disaster functions merely as a backdrop to the love story and a critique of racism. A few days before, I watched the nineteen-eighties film, The Day After. This one is not so interesting artistically, but it sure paints a frightening picture of what our would look and be like if the nuclear bombs go off.

Here are a few titles of the films I have watched and/or will watch: Invasion USA (1952), The Day the World Ended (1956), The World, The Flesh, and the Devil (1959), The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961), Panic in the Year Zero (1961) Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961), The Year 2889 (1966), The Atomic Cafe (1951, and 1982), Atomic War Bride (1960), Watch the Skies! (1950).

This is only a start!

For the later period there is Twilight's Last Gleaming (1970), Omega Man (1971), Silent Running (1972) (just a few in the early seventies); then, China Syndrome (1979), Testament (1983)--a truly extraordinary film, The Atomic Cafe (1982), The Day After (1983), Stryker (1983), Wargames (1983), Endgame (1983), Silkwood (1983),, Rush (1984), The Quiet Earth (1985), The Nuclear Conspiracy (1986), Desert Bloom (1986), Manhattan Project (1986), Radioactive Dreams (1986), When the Wind Blows (1986), The Abyss (1989). The nineties and 21st century don't have much to speak of --The Hunt for Red October (1990), Secret Weapon (1990), Until the End of the World (1991), Deterrence (2000), The Widowmaker (2002), The Sum of All Fears (2002).

I'm not watching Godzilla (the original or the remake), nor am I watching The Planet of the Ape series or Road Warrior. I've got enough on my plate with the pseudo- "realistic" films.

It is good that the weather is conducive to movie watching. Today is beautiful, but the wind blows and the temperature is bitter cold.

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