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Mother, do you think they'll drop the bomb?
June 14, 2007 10:32 PM   Subscribe

In 1965, Peter Watkins produced a fictional documentary called The War Game in which the aftermath of thermo-nuclear attacks in Britain was depicted. The BBC declared that it was "too horrifying for the medium of broadcasting" and was not aired until 1985. Watch it here (warning: graphic depictions of effects of radiation). Related, When the Wind Blows (parts 1 , 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8), a sober animated tale of a British couple who try and survive nuclear holocaust based on the civil defense manual "Protect and Survive." (Previously).
posted by champthom (74 comments total) 62 users marked this as a favorite

 
I remember reading the graphic novel version of When The Wind Blows at the age of perhaps nine, and being scared witless by it. Back then, some of us really did think it could happen to us.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 10:34 PM on June 14, 2007


Excellent... I've been wanting to/meaning to see The War Game for a while.
posted by pruner at 10:39 PM on June 14, 2007


good post
posted by KokuRyu at 10:52 PM on June 14, 2007


for us eschatology freaks, this is pure porn.

Fav'rit!
posted by telstar at 11:04 PM on June 14, 2007


aeschenkarnos - me too! Particularly troubling was the fact that When the Wind Blows was a sequel of sorts to Gentlemen Jim, the comic novel so similar to all Raymond Brigg's other stuff to date, imaginarty, good natured, sweet. WTWB absolutely devastated me as a little kid, and reading it today gets me teary eyed.
posted by jonson at 11:11 PM on June 14, 2007


See also: Threads
posted by jodrell banksmeadow at 11:13 PM on June 14, 2007


I figured I'd just watch the last part of When the Wind Blows, on the theory that it would be horrible and depressing. Bingo! aeschenkarnos, do you honestly no longer believe that this could happen? There are something like 30,000 nuclear bombs out there.

Just wanted to end the day on a bright note!
posted by nanojath at 11:15 PM on June 14, 2007


Threads is truly horrifying. Well worth a look
posted by mattoxic at 11:16 PM on June 14, 2007


when the wind blows is my all time favourite graphic novel. In fact I'd recently pulled out my copy to read. thanks for the post!
posted by infini at 11:18 PM on June 14, 2007


Tis a good post, and in the spirit of the horrordoc, this is pretty darn good too

Smallpox
posted by mattoxic at 11:23 PM on June 14, 2007


Wow, the animation is amazing. How it shifts between 3D and 2D -- it looks like they did most of the 3D bits fully by hand, without CGI. Amazing.
posted by jiawen at 11:29 PM on June 14, 2007


This reminds me of the Terry Nation series:

Survivors

Similar to what you posted mattoxic, only done 28 years earlier. Its about a group of people who survive a virus that wipes out 95% of the population in a few days.

Full selection of episodes on googtube.
(first episode)(episode list)

Turns out the bbc is remaking this series this year.
posted by Merik at 11:37 PM on June 14, 2007 [2 favorites]


Merik thanks heaps, I remember this as a youngster. Fantastic, there WAS nothing on TV tonight.
posted by mattoxic at 11:49 PM on June 14, 2007


Is the War Game worse than Threads? Because Threads fucked me up hard when I saw it as a teenager.
posted by davelog at 11:52 PM on June 14, 2007


I've converted to using Threads as a yardstick for measuring psychological stress and sheer insomniac panic, and it's way better than the English system.

For example, watching The Ring in the wreck of a flaming Delorian ranks in at exactly 0.3 Threads (0.3T), equivalent to watching Threads with your hands covering 70% of your field of vision. Remember your significant figures, folks.
posted by kid ichorous at 12:06 AM on June 15, 2007 [6 favorites]


That is, remember how scary Dr Who was when you were 5? That is how Threads affects adult minds.
posted by kid ichorous at 12:08 AM on June 15, 2007


If you duck, cover and use your fallout calculator, you'll be fine.
posted by Mblue at 12:08 AM on June 15, 2007


I remember the seeing the Day After at school in the early eighties, I had already seen Threads and thought, heh, that's nothing on Threads. Then I got beaten up by Damien Murphy.
posted by mattoxic at 12:14 AM on June 15, 2007


glad to bring it back for you mattoxic :)
posted by Merik at 12:16 AM on June 15, 2007


thanks a ton for this, i randomly saw "when the wind blows" ages ago and love that movie. it comes to mind on occasion and i don't know anyone else that's seen it, i get a blank stare whenever i tell people about it, doesn't help that i forget the name. anyway, i'm rambling, i didn't realize it was a graphic novel. who made it? so i can track it down.
posted by andywolf at 12:19 AM on June 15, 2007


I took When The Wind Blows out of our public library when I was 12. I was depressed for two weeks after that.
posted by PenDevil at 12:21 AM on June 15, 2007


Is the War Game worse than Threads? Because Threads fucked me up hard when I saw it as a teenager.

No, it's not as bad. Not as overwhelmingly apocalyptic, and not as gross (no amputations or melting corpses). A lot of memorably grim scenes, though, and worth watching as an example of extremely inventive low-budget filmmaking. Watkins was definitely ahead of his time. His other movies are very good also.
posted by stammer at 12:48 AM on June 15, 2007


Testament came out about the same time as Threads and was upsetting enough; the only way I ever intend to watch the latter is if I can stay drunk through the entire viewing.
posted by pax digita at 12:56 AM on June 15, 2007


I managed two seconds of When the Wind Blows just now. As soon as I saw the couple it brought back seeing it when I was young and crying for a long time afterwards. I don't want to cry at work.
posted by vbfg at 1:02 AM on June 15, 2007


i didn't realize it was a graphic novel. who made it? so i can track it down.

Raymond Baxter. He's also responsible for unleashing Aled Jones on an unsuspecting public. This is either considerably less or considerably more horrific, depending on your point of view.
posted by vbfg at 1:06 AM on June 15, 2007


I watched The War Game a couple of years ago when the British Film Institute released it on DVD making it available for the first time. It was harrowing stuff, particularly the triage section.

I'm pretty young - almost post Cold War - but even so they used to love this sort of stuff at school. We read When The Wind Blows and Brother In The Land. Are there a load of eco-catastrophe books that are going to become standard texts for given today's little kids nightmares? Nuclear war kinda pwns global warming for inducing terror. I guess that is part of the problem.
posted by ninebelow at 1:08 AM on June 15, 2007


Raymond Briggs. And Aled Jones wasn't in The Snowman so its hard to blame him for that.
posted by ninebelow at 1:11 AM on June 15, 2007


Doh, Briggs. Not the Tomorrow's World guy.
posted by vbfg at 1:14 AM on June 15, 2007


It's difficult to underestimate the effect these documentaries had on British people. For a while, people really thought inuclear war would happen. My mother told me recently that she had a plan if the nuclear klaxons started sounding back in the 80s. She intended to run to my school so she could be with my sister and me during our last few minutes alive. It was genuinely terrifying stuff.
posted by humblepigeon at 1:30 AM on June 15, 2007


Don't worry kids - just Duck and Cover like Burt (who has some cheery backing vocalists to accompany his Armageddon).
posted by rongorongo at 1:44 AM on June 15, 2007


Wonderful. I read the comic / graphic novel as a kid or early teenager, saw the movie, too.

Actually, it's kinda funny that the nuclear weapon thing seems to have fallen off the popular agenda since the end of the cold war. Back in the day these were produced, there were anti-nuke political parties making waves around the world, movies like The Day After terrifying people, and seriously large protest marches, at least on Hiroshima Day.

These days, nobody seems to really live in that fear of impending nuclear attack or winter any more, even though the threat is probably greater, what with ex-Soviet nukes disappearing like polar icecaps...
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:47 AM on June 15, 2007


* cues London Calling
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:48 AM on June 15, 2007


Curse you metafilter. I've just spent the last twenty minutes on an apocalyptic fiction binge, and now I'm sick, nauseous and in dire need of a new brain.

Or maybe it's radiation poisoning.
posted by electriccynic at 1:57 AM on June 15, 2007


Wow. When the Wind Blows is just devastating. I don't even know if I can watch it again.

Not that you shouldn't see it if you have not, because it's brilliant. But it's very sad.
posted by louche mustachio at 2:26 AM on June 15, 2007


Topical. On the day of the first Parliamentary vote in British history against a nuclear weapons system.

yes, the Scottish Parliament, not Westminster, hence the wording, but hey, the missiles are based in Scotland.
posted by imperium at 3:03 AM on June 15, 2007


THANK YOU for posting When The Wind Blows. I haven't seen it for fifteen years!
posted by autodidact at 3:16 AM on June 15, 2007


Both of these, plus Threads, seriously freaked me the shit out as a teenager. When the Wind Blows is just gutwrenching.
posted by andraste at 3:36 AM on June 15, 2007


Complementary to both of these films I recommend
The Third World War - The Untold Story By Gen Sir John Hackett NYT review/>
posted by adamvasco at 4:18 AM on June 15, 2007


The Wikipedia article on The Day After has interesting detail on the production and shooting, and some of the behind-the-scenes controversies.
posted by gimonca at 5:01 AM on June 15, 2007


One of the most creepy things about Threads - which is amazing, I have it on DVD - is that, as its Wikipedia entry states, it's an optimistic view of nuclear war. Despite the unspeakable horror and slaughter, central government survives (albeit at medieval-despotism level) and recovery begin. That, my friends, was the best-case scenario for full nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union, the rose-tinted version. Which makes watching it all the more difficult and disturbing.
posted by WPW at 5:08 AM on June 15, 2007


I can remember watching THE WAR GAME in a drafty methodist church hall with a lot of other young people in around 1981/2.

People think about the '50s being the atomic age but I thought about nothing more than being vaporized by atomic bombs during about 79-85. My nightmares were all about mushroom clouds.

My grandfather lived next to a nuclear bomber airfield which made me especially nervous when we went round for tea, since it was a first strike target.
posted by unSane at 5:29 AM on June 15, 2007


For true horror, consider the fate of the director of Threads, who left the UK for Hollywood and a career directing such modern classics as...The Bodyguard (yes, the one with Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner) and Volcano (yes, the one with Tommy Lee Jones and a big fucking volcano). Seriously, what the hell happened there?!

(Threads is an incredibly good, powerful movie, and I thank God I saw it for the first time a few years ago -- as an adult. My heart goes out to anyone who saw it as a kid; letting your kid watch this may qualify as child abuse.)
posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:32 AM on June 15, 2007


Threads was shown to a generation of British school kids at school, fwiw. That's where I first saw it.
posted by vbfg at 6:39 AM on June 15, 2007


Yeah, that would NEVER have flown here. Well, maybe you could have shown it to high school kids.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:43 AM on June 15, 2007


So, was On The Beach the Day After/When The Wind Blows of the previous generation, or did it fail to make a dent in the universe in 1959?
posted by kimota at 7:09 AM on June 15, 2007


After watching Threads I needed a hug.
posted by Artw at 7:46 AM on June 15, 2007


kimota... I was scrolling down to post likely the same link ;)
posted by acro at 7:51 AM on June 15, 2007


Cover image from On the Beach (Nevil Shute)
posted by acro at 7:54 AM on June 15, 2007


I read this book a little while back, and while it was a sobering read in general, there was one bit of (bleak) hope offered in regard to the prospect of nuclear war; almost all military commanders hate the idea of all-out nuclear war. Not because it would result in the end of civilization as we know it, but because it renders their profession irrelevant (i.e. there will be no use for cunning military strategy, ground troops, etc. during a nuclear war).

Based on the comments here, there is no way I am ever going to watch Threads.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:57 AM on June 15, 2007


Mblue's radiation calculators--Inside the Making of 'Dr. Strangelove' tells how they used them as promotional items at theaters when the film opened...
posted by acro at 8:07 AM on June 15, 2007


Based on the comments here, there is no way I am ever going to watch Threads.

Oh, but you should, though. It's disturbing as fuck, but with the cold war looking like it might ramp back up, it should be seen by this generation. I know it showed me possibilities and implications that I hadn't considered, and reinforces with a heavy hand the thought that we as human beings should do anything possible to make sure something like that NEVER happens in real life.

You need to see it. You also need to plan on a week of very little sleep.
posted by davelog at 8:17 AM on June 15, 2007


hese days, nobody seems to really live in that fear of impending nuclear attack or winter any more, even though the threat is probably greater, what with ex-Soviet nukes disappearing like polar icecaps...

Sure, but one or two nukes going off wouldn't be as horrifying, the real horror of films like Threads is that there is nowhere to go. Even if you survived, there is no-one coming to get you out of your shelter and to safety.
posted by atrazine at 8:42 AM on June 15, 2007


I hear you, davelog, but I'm an '80's kid, and I've already had enough nuclear war nightmares to tide me over until the real thing.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:43 AM on June 15, 2007


Thanks. Several months ago my Michigan-born wife and I sat down to watch Threads. I hadn't seen it since I was a teenager. She stopped watching after around 30 minutes, horrified and professed herself unable to continue. She says now she understands when I became a cynic. My Dad's told me how The War Game similarly affected him.
posted by meehawl at 8:45 AM on June 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


Great post.
posted by brundlefly at 9:21 AM on June 15, 2007


*wonders if paperback copies of Pat Frank's "Alas, Babylon" and Jonathan Schell's "The Fate of the Earth" are greppable at home*
posted by allaboutgeorge at 9:25 AM on June 15, 2007


Great posts and all, but is anyone actively doing anything to counter the nuclear threat? Did any of these films dating back some 40-odd years put a stop nuclear proliferation? Has anyone given you or I better training than that pamphlet in When the Wind Blows provided? Does Amurica still have idiot leaders that entertain the use of pre-emptive nyukular strikes?

[crickets chirping]

nope, didn't think so.

Fuckit then, there are worse ways to die and I'm not going to be bothered wondering which Boogyman has my name.

Debussy's Clair de Lune in Threads was pretty though. Perfect musical sentiment to go with the mild depression that accompanies hopeless resignation. Somebody get me my Soma.
posted by HyperBlue at 11:16 AM on June 15, 2007


Fuckit then, there are worse ways to die and I'm not going to be bothered wondering which Boogyman has my name.

I think the point is, in this scenario it's better to die right off. There aren't worse ways to survive.
posted by davelog at 11:25 AM on June 15, 2007


Luxurious, deep underground, well-stocked bunkers for the rich, powerful, and privileged.

Different Faces of Death for the rest of us.

And so it goes.
posted by HyperBlue at 11:49 AM on June 15, 2007


Threads was shown to a generation of British school kids at school, fwiw. That's where I first saw it.

And having just watched it again, I was reminded of the entire class breaking out in mass hilarity when the woman pees herself. That was also the moment the first bomb goes off. Tsk. Kids.
posted by vbfg at 11:55 AM on June 15, 2007


To steer slightly away from cold-war-kid nuclear angst (in which I have previously indulged,) the dvd from which that youtube version of The War Game was taken also includes Culloden, which is well worth watching.

Worst sentence structure ever. Not editing.

Also see Watkins' Punishment Park.

HyperBlue, davelog: we must not allow a mineshaft gap.
posted by jessenoonan at 1:51 PM on June 15, 2007



fallout 3 trailer.

posted by andywolf at 2:06 PM on June 15, 2007


Anybody remember Special Bulletin? Can't seem to find it on the video sites, but I remember it messed with me pretty bad at the time.
posted by jbickers at 2:38 PM on June 15, 2007


Oooh, Punishment Park. That was great. Nthing the being permanently scarred by these shows, esp. "Threads".

Does anyone remember Carl Sagan being interviewed after "The Day After" premiered?

It was live as I recall, and he was being asked questions by a couple of guys in suits. Dr. Sagan was asked about the realism of the preceding film, and patiently explained that, in the event of a real nuclear war, not only would you have the horrible deaths caused by the explosion and the resulting radiation, but that huge clouds would rise up into the air and block out the sun, and that there would be a nuclear winter, and basically all life on Earth would end.

And one of these guys said, "well, if we weren't depressed before, we certainly are now".
posted by stinkycheese at 2:48 PM on June 15, 2007


It's hard to find, but the 1988 Steve De Jarnatt film "Miracle Mile" scared me more than any other nuclear apocalypse on film. It fucks the viewer up by means not dissilar to *When The Wind Blows,* but it's set in LA, and with real actors, and with a terrifying cinematic trick that takes your breath away when it happens. I cannot recommend it enough, or at all. It was that good/awful.

And yes, we've forgotten about it, but we live in the shadow of this fate every single day. And now that Russia is rattling sabers, and Iran becoming a flashpoint, and Israel a cornered tiger, and China a world power, and North Korea an unchecked rogue state, and the US a global imperial bully, and India and Pakistan ethnonationalist antagonists, how long can it be before we start to see, and then accept, a certain level of nuclear holocaust as (like AIDS and climate change) just part of the modern world. And thus did we decline and fall with a series of bangs and whimpers.

God damn. And it's such a beautiful day today too.
posted by spitbull at 2:53 PM on June 15, 2007


Stinkycheese, I heard about that and have been wanting to find a copy for YEARS!


Spitbull, that movie ruled
posted by Senor Cardgage at 3:11 PM on June 15, 2007


To be honest Yanqui "after the bomb" type films never really had the same impact on me. Part of that would be that it wasn't a familiar, everyday setting to me, but a lot of it would be the "real actors", and the make up, and the glossy sheen of the decent filmstock and lighting. British nuke films shiot to make everyone and everything look like ass and with all-over-the-place acting by the local am-dram society just seemed so much more real to me.

(Plus as a kid I'm not completely sure I thought of America being bombed as that bad a thing. Sorry guys. )
posted by Artw at 3:12 PM on June 15, 2007


Nuclear war knows no borders, Artw. I wouldn't expect a child to know that, but as grownups we see that no one wins the day it starts. No one.

Anyway, trust me on Miracle Mile. Every death is individual, in the end. This is no less true when everyone is dying, horribly. Stripped of the ideological messages, no matter how important or grotesque they may be, it's just about pain and loss. Miracle Mile nails this by personalizing the story completely, not to "dramatize" any general condition, but just to tell a very sad story.

I need to see it again, now, and soon.

I'm just watching the scene in The War Game where the constables are putting the writihing dying out of their misery with pistols. Jesus Christ.
posted by spitbull at 3:17 PM on June 15, 2007


Important to note about Miracle Mile is that I believe that once the countdown starts, the film progresses in pretty much real time.

Not positive about that, but I believe so.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 3:26 PM on June 15, 2007


Anybody remember Special Bulletin?

Hell yes. There are VHS copies of it floating around on ebay.
posted by davelog at 3:46 PM on June 15, 2007


do you honestly no longer believe that this could happen? There are something like 30,000 nuclear bombs out there.

War. War never changes.
posted by thedaniel at 3:58 PM on June 15, 2007


Ah, yes, Punishment Park. That's another Watkins flick well worth seeking out (although I mean "flick" in the most facetious way, of course).

Nice post!
posted by Neilopolis at 7:14 PM on June 15, 2007


Special Bulletin was great for its almost-parody of cheesy news graphics, and especially the very end bit: "And in other news...."
posted by gimonca at 8:36 PM on June 15, 2007


Miracle Mile's available from Amazon and Netflix.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:55 AM on June 16, 2007


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