Atomic Pop 

Dallas and Emmanuelle versus the Commies in Disco and Atomic War

Thursday, Nov 25 2010

With tongues partially in cheek, Disco and Atomic War director Jaak Kilmi and screenwriter Kiur Aarma, who grew up in the same neighborhood of Tallinn, Estonia, in the 1980s, lay out the case that Cold War Soviet rule of their country was fatally eroded by Western pop culture, in the form of Finnish television broadcasts that drifted across the border. Narrating in deadpan English and weaving together incredible footage from Soviet archives and unmarked re-creations that almost pass for real home movies, Kilmi and Aarma detail their boyhood obsessions with the illegal airwaves, the seduction of entire families by disco dance shows and Dallas reruns, and the increasingly absurd, ultimately futile lengths taken by the Soviet state to maintain some semblance of control over the viewing habits (and thus, the hearts and minds) of the body politic. Aarma and Kilmi deconstruct the notion of soft power, acknowledging both its short-term sexiness (literally, in the case of a broadcast of Emmanuelle that allegedly touched off an Estonian baby boom) and its long-term effect (not even fictional images of a free-market democracy in which "everyone drinks whiskey on the rocks, [and] everyone is a millionaire" could inspire meaningful lasting sociopolitical change). If another contemporary nonfiction film makes a better case for the still-controversial tactic of blending scripted scenes into factual footage, I haven't seen it.

(Monica, Playhouse, Sunset 5, Town Center)

click to enlarge Disco and Atomic War
  • Disco and Atomic War

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