This past week I've been working on a paper about reactions to the atomic bomb for my history class, and enlisted the film Atomic Cafe as one of my resources. This documentary has been on my radar for a while, but this was a good excuse to move it up my queue. The entire film was done using archival materials from newsreels, the dropping of the atomic bombs, military training videos, educational videos, and medical footage from the 1940s and 1950s. The entire film was done without narration, with audio existing on the archival footage and minimal titles--in fact I think most of the titles were on the existing archival footage.
Perhaps I haven't seen an only archival footage documentary in a long time, or one as exclusively based in archival footage, but the power of the creators thesis was clear, merely by the juxtapositioning of images. After spending a considerable time thinking about how to make documentaries and ethnographies, I was unprepared to think so much about post-production, rather than the production aspect. I've spent so much time thinking about how to respectfully approach subjects without making them objects, how to frame scenes, what questions to ask, etc., that I've spent little time thinking about editing. In Atomic Cafe, the footage remaining the same, could have been edited together to make almost a whole new thesis, if one wanted too. Obviously when much of the footage was originally used, it was propaganda supporting the bomb, and one could have edited that together to continue that point of view. However, It was very clear from the placement of "duck and cover" drill videos with images of some of the measurements of the damage at Hiroshima, that this not only advocated peace and anti-nuclear action, but implicated America as victimizer.
Besides the increased attention I will be doing to documentary and ethnography editing, I also feel like I need to reexamine the casual way in which atomic was used following the bombing. Within and incredibly brief time, the term atomic began to be used for everything from music, to drinks, and to movie stars. But that's another project.