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“Oppenheimer” Fans are Rediscovering an Old Documentary from the 1940s


The Day After Trinity, which was made available for free subscription until the end of August, climbed to the top of Criterion Channel’s list of the most watched films.

One day in the 1950s Jon H. Else’s father pointed towards Nevada at their house in Sacramento. “There was this orange glow that suddenly rose up in the sky, and then shrank back down,” Else recalls.

It was thousands of kilometers away a nuclear weapon test, a symbol for the world made when a group of Americans headed by scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer exploded the first nuclear bomb decade earlier on the 16th of July 1945.

Growing up in the age of nuclear technology made an impression on Else who is now at 78.

Later, he was a series producer for the acclaimed “Eyes on the Prize,” which was a show about Civil Rights movements and also directed documentaries on The Great Depression and Wagner’s “Ring” cycle. Before that, in the year 1981, the filmmaker made a documentary about Oppenheimer the scientist whose face was featured on the pages of magazines from the midcentury as well as the bomb. It was titled “The Day After Trinity,” in reference to that initial explosion.

A decade later, audiences are flocking to Else’s movie that is nominated to win an Academy Award for best documentary feature, in addition with Christopher Nolan’s biopic “Oppenheimer,” which grossed more than $100 million in its first week of this month.

The day after The Criterion Channel launched “The Day After Trinity” available without a subscription for the duration of August, the film climbed into the top spot of the most watched films in the month of August, along with films directed by Martin Scorsese, Paul Verhoeven, Michael Mann and other typical Letterboxdcore filmmakers.

“We have seen a huge increase in views,” Criterion announced in a press release, “and we’re very happy with the success of the strategy as a way to make sure this film found its rightful place in the conversation around ‘Oppenheimer.'”

In a telephone interview from California in the last week Else who is a professor of emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley and praised the film of Nolan, which he watched over the week in San Francisco. (A spokesperson for Nolan confirmed that the director was unavailable to speak with reporters.)

“These stories have to be retold every generation,” Else declared, “and they have to be told by new storytellers.”

The three-hour film is an Universal release that was shot on IMAX film and featuring a dazzling lineup of top-of-the-line Hollywood actors, shares a lot similarity to “The Day After Trinity,” an 88-minute documentary that was funded through the local public TV station of San Jose, Calif. as well as various grants.

Oppenheimer of “Oppenheimer” and the Oppenheimer from “Oppenheimer” (based on Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book “American Prometheus”), and the Oppenheimer of “The Day After Trinity” are both the same amazing, sensitive, and troubled soul. “This man who was apparently a completely nonviolent fellow was the architect of the most savage weapon in history,” Else stated.

The films include the same characters that were in Oppenheimer’s life.

Oppenheimer, who died in the year 1967 as did his brother, Frank (played in “Oppenheimer” by Dylan Arnold), his close friend Haakon Chevalier (Jefferson Hall) and the Physics physicist Isidor Isaac Rabi (David Krumholtz). The two films begin with Trinity and then chronicle the struggle between the inventors’ hopes that the bomb wouldn’t be used in a war, the use of the bomb in Japan as well as the development of the more deadly hydrogen bomb, and an arms race between nuclear weapons during that time of the Cold War.

A major plot element in every film is a closed-door hearing in 1954, at which Oppenheimer was removed from his security clearance primarily due to his past links with the left. David Webb Peoples, a co-editor as well as co-writer of “The Day After Trinity” and later screenwriting credits included “Blade Runner,” “Unforgiven” and “12 Monkeys” — even suggested structuring the film around the hearing, just as Nolan made in “Oppenheimer.”

“The closest he ever came to an autobiography is his personal statement at the beginning of the hearing,” said Else who concentrated on interviews with witnesses who were firsthand or old footage, as well as still images rather than trying to recreate the proceedings.

“It’s also a courtroom drama,” Else said, “and who is not going to pay attention to a courtroom drama?”

One of the places “The Day After Trinity” mentions which “Oppenheimer” does not is Hiroshima.

It is in the film that Manhattan Project physicists recount exploring the wrecked Japanese city. Narrator says that the Allies did not attack the city prior to the war in order to save a space for the demonstration of their new weapon.

Else has returned to this subject in his documentary from 2007 “Wonders Are Many: The Making of ‘Doctor Atomic,'” that chronicles composer John Adams’s work about Oppenheimer. Else is currently writing the book on nuclear testing. In 1982, he created one-hour episodes of the popular television series “Nova” about the Exploratorium as which is the San Francisco science museum that was established on the 29th of September 1969, by Frank Oppenheimer.

“Making ‘The Day After Trinity’ was a pretty rugged ride — it’s pretty rugged subject matter,” Else explained. “After I finished it, it was such a joy to spend a year with Robert Oppenheimer‘s younger brother, Frank, and celebrate the joy of science.”


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