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This review is from: Radio Bikini (DVD)
"I'm making a film. If you want to learn history, read a book." - - Robert Stone
Robert Stone's Academy Award-nominated documentary, Radio Bikini, teaches history by presenting the story of the 1946 atomic bomb tests in the Marshall Islands using US government film. With hundreds of cameras recording the blasts in the Bikini Atoll, Operation Crossroads must have been the most extensively recorded event in history up to that time.
The story of smiling sailors before the test (putting animals in cages to test anti-radiation substances, drinking 3-2 beer, playing volleyball) alternates with the reminiscences of a sailor who suffered horrendous effects after returning to the area of the blast.
The chief of the island describes the day the Navy came and told him the United States needed to move his people and destroy their home. He'd never even seen a motion picture camera before that day.
Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov spars with US representative Bernard Baruch at the United Nations about which country has more peaceful intentions for the atom. Protesters march against the Bikini tests.
Stone's comment on film vs. history quoted above is misleading. He doesn't take the Jerry Bruckheimer approach to filmmaking (Blackhawk Down, Pearl Harbor) that dismisses historical accuracy in favor of an exciting story. He's just aware of the shortcomings of film to explain an historical event. (The interview with Stone included on the DVD is very interesting.)
Radio Bikini proves that film can show the truth, even if it can't show the whole truth. The physical effects of the Bikini tests we see are real. Cameras don't have to (as they often do in the age of embedded reporters) lie by showing the exultation of soldiers after combat but turning away from the dead and scarred bodies of soldiers and civilians.
(ADDITIONAL RECOMMENDATION: If you're interested in how film has treated history, see the Spring 2004 issue of Cineaste. There's a forty-page supplement with comments by historians like Simon Schama and Eric Hobsbawm and historical filmmakers like John Sayles and Costa Gavras.)