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Atomic: Living in Dread and Promise (2015)

Experimental documentary that looks at the Hiroshima nuclear bomb and its legacy.


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Experimental documentary that looks at the Hiroshima nuclear bomb and its legacy.

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Interesting left-field experimental documentary
10 September 2015 | by (Edinburgh, Scotland, UK) – See all my reviews

Atomic: Living in Dread and Promise is a film commissioned by the wonderful TV channel BBC4 as part of a series of television programmes designed to mark the 70th anniversary of the dropping of the Hiroshima atomic bomb. It was directed by Mark Cousins, who most British film fans of a certain age will remember as the final host of the cult movie series Moviedrome. It seems that latterly he has been an actual film-maker himself. With this he has taken a very famous historical subject and made a film about it which doesn't simply inform the viewer of facts in the way of a traditional documentary. Cousins has instead made a documentary/art film hybrid. He has constructed it by solely using previously released material - including old newsreels, information films, b-movies and documentaries – and edited them together in a not entirely linear manner. There is a basic trajectory to it but it jumps around and images are juxtaposed in often unexpected ways. Underpinning it all is an original score from the post-rock band Mogwai, which hits a suitable tone to compliment the imagery.

We have images of nuclear explosions, victims of the Japanese attacks and protesters, as well as some later material considering the positive aspects of the nuclear industry. So this is far from a one dimensional view on a topic that is far more complex than is sometimes portrayed. It's good on Cousins that he has taken this more measured, less obvious approach. The film itself is quite beautifully constructed and the imagery is often incredible, nuclear explosions after all are simultaneously terrifying, yet mesmerising visually. I wouldn't necessarily say it gets a clear message across but I wouldn't say it's really that kind of a film. It more taps into several things by way of cinematic techniques. The form of the film itself is an end within itself here. Because it has been entirely constructed from archive material, this feels more like an exercise in editing than actual direction. For the most part I thought it was a nicely original bit of experimental and bold TV and BBC4 has to be congratulated for commissioning something this left-field.

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