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Our final two films are The Atomic Cafe, written by Michael Edwards and Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb directed by Stanley Kubrik.

Both require a basic  knowledge of the Cold War — the period of tension between the United States and the Soviet Union that immediately followed World War II and lasted until the late ’80’s.

In particular, each film deals in its own way with the “atomic age” — a period of great anxiety that climaxed with the Cuban Missile Crisis in August 1962. For a two week period, there was the likelihood of “Mutually Assured Destruction” (MAD) as both countries faced off in what looked to be a final confrontation.

During the entire thirty year period, the American government used propaganda first to instill a deep fear of Communism in its population and second, to minimize fear of the effects of nuclear war. Politicians feared the growth of an anti-nuclear weapons movement that would derail military expenditures and encourage compromise.

The Atomic Cafe is a compilation of that propaganda and the media coverage of certain key events, such as the Rosenberg execution.

Dr Strangelove is a comedy about nuclear Armageddon. It had it’s premiere in January 1964 but was originally scheduled to open the week after President Kennedy’s assassination.



1945 Defeat of Germany and JapanFebruary 4-11: Yalta Conference meeting of FDR, Churchill, Stalin – the ‘Big Three’
Soviet Union has control of Eastern Europe. The Cold War Begins
May 8: VE Day – Victory in Europe. Germany surrenders to the Red Army in BerlinJuly: Potsdam Conference – Germany was officially partitioned into four zones of occupation.

August 6: The United States drops atomic bomb on Hiroshima (20 kiloton bomb ‘Little Boy’ kills 80,000)

August 8: Russia declares war on Japan

August 9: The United States drops atomic bomb on Nagasaki (22 kiloton ‘Fat Man’ kills 70,000)

August 14 : Japanese surrender End of World War II

August 15: Emperor surrender broadcast – VJ Day

1946 February 9: Stalin hostile speech – communism & capitalism were incompatibleMarch 5 : “Sinews of Peace” Iron Curtain Speech by Winston Churchill – “an “iron curtain” has descended on Europe”March 10 – Truman demands Russia leave IranJuly 1: Operation Crossroads with Test Able was the first public demonstration of America’s atomic arsenal

July 25: America’s Test Baker – underwater explosion

1947 ContainmentMarch 12 : Truman Doctrine – Truman declares active role in Greek Civil WarJune : Marshall Plan is announced setting a precedent for helping countries combat poverty, disease and malnutritionSeptember 2 – Rio Pact – U.S. meet 19 Latin American countries and created a security zone around the hemisphere

1948 ContainmentFebruary 25 : Communist takeover in CzechoslovakiaMarch 2: Truman’s Loyalty Program created to catch Cold War spiesMarch 17: Brussels Pact organized to protect Europe from communism

June 24 : Berlin Blockade begins lasting 11 months

1949 ContainmentApril 4 : NATO ratifiedMay 12 : Berlin Blockade ends29 August : Russia tested its first atomic bomb

October 1 : Communist Mao Zedong takes control of China and establishes the People’s Republic of China

December 1 – Chiang Kai-shek moved to Formosa and created Nationalist government

1950 January 30 – Truman approved H-bomb developmentFebruary : Joe McCarthy begins Communist witch hunt and loyalty testsJune 24: Korean War begins. Stalin supports North Korea who invade South Korea equipped with Soviet weapons

1951 January 12 : Federal Civil Defense Administration establishedApril 11 – Truman fires MacArthur

1952 A-bombs developed by Britain

1953 March 17-June 4 Nuclear Arms Race atomic test series of 11 explosions at Nevada Test SiteApril 15: RAND report on the “Vulnerability of U. S. Strategic Air Power”July : Korean War endsDecember 8: Ike’s Atoms for Peace speech

1954 March 1: H-bomb Castle-Bravo testMarch : KGB establishedCIA helps overthrow unfriendly regimes in Iran and GuatemalaJuly : Vietnam split at 17th parallel

1955 May : Warsaw Pact formed

1956 June 29: USSR sent tanks into Poznan, Poland, to suppress demonstrations by workersSeptember 4: USSR sent military aid to AfghanistanOctober – November : Rebellion put down in Communist Hungary.October 29: Suez Crisis began with Israeli attack led by Moshe Dayan against Egyptian forces in the Sinai

Egypt took control of Suez Canal

1957 August 26: Vostok rocket launched 1st ICBMOctober 4 : Sputnik launched into orbitNovember 3: Sputnik II launched – Laika died in space

1958 January 31: Explorer I launchedJuly : NASA began Mercury project using Atlas rocketNovember : Khrushchev demands withdrawal of troops from Berlin

1959 January : Cuba taken over by Fidel CastroSeptember : Khrushchev visits United States; The Kitchen Debate

1960 A-bombs developed by FranceMay : Soviet Union reveals that U.S. spy plane was shot down over Soviet territoryNovember : John F. Kennedy elected President of USADecember 19: Cuba openly aligns itself with the Soviet Union and their policies.

1961 April : Bay of Pigs invasion see Cuban Missile Crisis TimelineAugust 13 : Berlin border is closedAugust 17 : Construction of Berlin Wall begins

1962 U.S. involvement in Vietnam increases see Vietnam War TimelineOctober : Cuban Missile Crisis see Cuban Missile Crisis Timeline

1963 1963: July : Nuclear Test Ban Treaty ratified1963: November : President Kennedy assassinated in Dallas, Texas

1964 August : Gulf of Tonkin incident – see Vietnam War TimelineOctober: A-bombs developed by China

1965 April : U.S. Marines sent to Dominican Republic to fight CommunismJuly : Announcement of dispatching of 200,000 U.S. troops to Vietnam

1966 B-52s Bomb North Vietnam

1967 The US Secretary of Defence Robert McNamara admits that the US bombing raids had failed to meet their objectives

1968 January : North Korea captured U.S.S. PuebloPresident Johnson does not run for the presidency and Richard Nixon Elected President of the USAAugust : Soviet Red Army crush Czechoslovakian revolt

1969 July 20 : Apollo 11 lands on the moon

1970 April : President Nixon extends Vietnam War to Cambodia

1971 Publication of the Pentagon Papers

1972 February: President Richard Nixon visits ChinaJuly : SALT I signed

1973 January : Cease fire in Vietnam between North Vietnam and United StatesSeptember : U.S. supported coup overthrows Chilean governmentOctober : Egypt and Syria attack Israel; Egypt requests Soviet aid

1974 1974: August : President Nixon resigns

1975 April 17 : North Vietnam defeats South Vietnam which falls to Communist forces

1976 February: Soviet and Cuban forces help to install Communist government in Angola.

1979 January: U.S. and China establish diplomatic relations.July : SALT II signedNovember : Shah of Iran overthrown; Iranian Hostage CrisisDecember: Soviet forces invade Afghanistan

1980 August: Polish shipyard workers strike Solidarity Union formed. Strike leader Lech Walesa is elected as the head of Solidarity

1983 President Reagan proposes Strategic Defence Initiative1983: October : U.S. troops invades and overthrows regime in Grenada

1985 Mikhail Gorbachev becomes leader of the Soviet Union initiating a campaign of openness called “glasnost” and restructuring called “perestroika”

1986 October : President Reagan and Gorbachev resolve to remove all intermediate nuclear missiles from Europe

1987 October : Reagan and Gorbachev agree to remove all medium and short-range nuclear missiles

1989 January : Soviet troops withdraw from AfghanistanJune : Poland becomes independentSeptember : Hungary becomes independent

November : Berlin Wall is demolished and East Germany allows unrestricted migration to West Germany

December : Communist governments fall in Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, and Rumania

Decline of the Soviet empire

1990 March : Lithuania becomes independentMay 29 : Boris Yeltsin elected as President of RussiaOctober 3 : Germany reunited

1991 August : End of Soviet Union and the Cold War Ends


Discuss issues around the semiotics of gender, identity, and family in this article from the New Straits Times and Paris is Burning. You might also want to refer to this Joan Rivers interview made shortly after the film.

What are the semiotics contained in MYKAD? Is MYKAD a signifier? How and what does it signify and to whom?

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The Boys’ musical score underneath the final sequence from Flaherty’s film. A kind of music video, it points to the power of the imagery and the rhythm of the editing.



Write a critique of this sequence utilizing semiotics and feminist theory. Deal with the entire sequence, not just Marilyn’s number.

Pay attention to all the aspects of mis-en-scene, including performance, music, lighting, acting, costume, setting, cinematography.

What are the signifiers and what do they signify? What is/are the code(s)?  Deal with embodiment, typology, gestures, and all that.

From a feminist point of view, who is Marilyn Monroe? Who is Sugar Cane? And who are Daphne and Josephine?

Are we dealing with the male gaze here? the objectification of woman? or not?

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Your comparison papers are due in class on Wednesday. Please hand in hard copy and post on your blog. If you are going to miss the deadline, you must notify me 24 hours before.

Quiz Monday. All the material since the last quiz. 20 questions. Short answer.

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The truth is rarely pure and never simple. — Oscar Wilde

This course has focused primarily on fictional narrative films, but we have screened a few documentaries. Night and Fog, The Man With a Move Camera, Triumph of the Will. Even from these examples, you can see that the subject is a complex one.

We are bombarded with documentaries, pseudo documentaries, propaganda films. They create the images in our minds — and the narrative in our heads, of history, politics, products — truth. Every night, we watch the news: mini-documentaries. We watch commercials – which can often seem like documentaries. In school, the teacher sets up the projector for a documentary on how to protect yourself from HIV. You access YouTube to watch a comparison of two smart phones. And then there’s the History Channel!

We have all been in documentaries and made documentaries. Are the subjects of our family videos. We record history with our cellphones.

So what is a documentary? Bordwell’s discussion of the subject in the textbook is an excellent place to start. Please read it.

A documentary is any film that says it’s a documentary. It pretends to present “factual information about the world”.

But what is fact? What is truth?

A better question to ask is what creates the impression of truth.

In between the subject and the audience is the film. It is assembled, shot, edited, staged (or not) narrated (or not), performed (or not) set to music (or not). In short, it is manipulated. But in such a way that we say “this is true”.

This is not a pipe.

Bordwell talks about the types of documentary. Often, these types are combined.

  • The compilation film: archival images assembled by the director. Night and Fog is a powerful example of this.
  • The interview or talking heads documentary.
  • The direct cinema documentary: records an event as it happens.: cinema verite.

With a documentary, the willing suspension of disbelief is that we are not suspending our disbelief. (a new quotation from Chairman Rey)

This is the most famous influential, and most debated. documentary of my lifetime: The Zapruder record of John Kennedy’s assassination. Do not watch it if you are squeamish.


What is truth?

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A sign stands FOR something TO someone.


The sign is not the thing itself!

The someone (interpretant) assigns meaning to the sign.

Signs can be:

  • Words
  • Images
  • Sounds
  • Gestures
  • Objects
  • Etcera

There are three types of signs:

  • Iconic: the signifier resembles the signified (picture of pipe)
  • Symbolic: the signifier bears no relationship to the signified, but is determined by (cultural) agreement: “pipe”
  • Indexical: a cause/effect relationship between sign and signified: smoke = fire: no smoke = no fire.

A sign has no meaning unless it is interpreted. The interpretation is a “construction” of the sign.

“‘Commonsense’ suggests that ‘I’ am a unique individual with a stable, unified identity and ideas of my own. Semiotics can help us to realize that such notions are created and maintained by our engagement with sign systems: our sense of identity is established through signs. We derive a sense of ‘self’ from drawing upon conventional, pre-existing repertoires of signs and codes . . .. We are thus the subjects of our sign systems rather than being ‘users’ who are fully in control of them.”
(Daniel Chandler, Semiotics: The Basics, Routledge, 2006)