Atomic Bomb Blues: Myth and Melancholy in American Science Fiction Film of the 1950s

Williamson, James Bruce. 2019. Atomic Bomb Blues: Myth and Melancholy in American Science Fiction Film of the 1950s. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

Through a series of close readings of six Hollywood science fiction films of the 1950s, this thesis investigates the genre’s representation and rendering of social and political concerns specific to the historic moment through its repurposing and reimagining of mythic and archetypal narrative structures, conceptualised here as a corresponding phenomenon to the growth of interest in those areas of study within the academic community, for instance in the work of Campbell, Jung, and Frye. It establishes how this relationship is articulated in the form of a particular melancholic tone and attitude that contrasts with the ostensible stability and triumphalism of both the genre and American culture in this period, a melancholy that is apparent in the contemporary commentary of I.F. Stone and in the cybernetic theorising of Norbert Wiener. With an inductive method that connects formal and structural readings, grounded in a consideration of cinematic language and generic conventions, I address these recurring thematic concerns of the contemporary cultural and intellectual milieu that are also apparent in this selection of films. The thesis thus identifies direct adaptations of, and homologies with, prominent constellations of academic and popular thought in America at this time as they emerge through the corpus, and thereby argues for the value of such comparative analysis. The readings therefore address such phenomena as the popularity of Freudian psychology, the development of cybernetics, and the evolution of structural thought, identifying a clear bridge between these immediate historic and cultural concerns, and the functioning of the science fiction genre in cinema at this point in its own evolution. In so doing, it also lays the groundwork for a new history of science fiction film, suggesting a triangulation of the genre’s relationship with parallel social, cultural, and political trends through consideration of the mythic and the melancholic.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):

Additional Information:

This is a redacted version of the thesis, with third-party copyright material removed.


Film studies, media studies, science fiction (SF) studies, genre studies, American studies, Hollywood, 1950s, Cold War, myth, melancholy, cybernetics, popular culture

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Media, Communications and Cultural Studies


31 August 2019

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

10 Sep 2019 15:01

Last Modified:

07 Sep 2022 17:15


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