Atomic: Living in Dread and Promise (2015)
I’ve seen this before, but it’s on iPlayer at the moment and well worth a rewatch. Why? Because it’s scored by the mighty Mogwai. Think Koyaanisqatsi with a more documentary style tone and you’re on the right lines. It’s a real mood piece, captivating to watch. The music pulls you in as one half of the narrative, alongside a mash up of old and new stock, photos, colour, black and white, newsreel, film clips, some with snippets of audio, others with bits of text. The thread is simple and clear, the story of the bomb and nuclear power. It’s very top line, but covers the basics well and is startlingly dramatic. It’s listed as a documentary, but it’s got its finger firmly on the art house trigger. This is where Mogwai’s music helps. If you know this band, you might expect a full on ear bleeding post rock bombastic display of raucous power. Especially with the terrifying scenes of annihilation. There’s a beautiful subtlety though, delicate piano and percussion, emotive strings and space to allow the images to breathe. The message is clear. Nuclear weapons are a bad idea, but there’s hope for humanity. It casts the story arc pretty wide, the physics, testing, preparation and survival, anti-war demos, the Cuban middle crisis, power stations and accidents, scientific advancements, CERN and Hiroshima. The music though is the backbone giving it its solid structure, allowing time to play out longer emotive montages, that would otherwise require some kind of no doubt dry voiceover. There’s no such thing here though thankfully, just a well crafted edit of poignant imagery with killer sounds. You can listen to the soundtrack on its own and it’s fantastic, but accompanying the film it really is stirring stuff. It doesn’t dig too deep. If you want a bit more back story on the bomb, I’d recommend the BBC Podcast ‘The Bomb’, a deep dive that remains accessible. This though is worth an hour of your time and make sure your speakers are set to radiate.