Flat Broke In The ’70s: Americathon (1979, directed by Neal Israel)

The year is 1998 and America is flat broke.  Paper currency is now worthless and, to the joy of Ron Paul supporters everywhere, all transactions are done in gold.  After the country ran out of oil, people started using skateboards and bicycles for transportation and many turned their cars into homes.  While the citizenry spends their time consuming a steady diet of sitcoms and reality television, the government tries to figure out how to pay back the loan that it took from Sam Birdwater (Chief Dan George), a Native American who made billions after buying Nike.  Birdwater wants his money back and he is prepared to foreclose on the entire country.

Newly elected President Chet Roosevelt (John Ritter) is not helping.  A combination of Jack Tripper and Jerry Brown (who was gearing up to challenge Jimmy Carter in the Democratic primaries when Americathon was first released), Chet Roosevelt is a spaced-out former governor of California who speaks in 70s self-help slogans and who is more interested in getting laid than leading the country.  Roosevelt governs out of The Western White House, a condo in California.  When an ad exec named Eric McMerkin (Peter Reigert) suggests a month-long telethon to raise the money to pay off the loan, Roosevelt leaps at the chance.

Hosted by Harvey Korman, the telethon (which is called, naturally, the Americathon) features a wide variety of acts.  There’s a ventriloquist.  Jay Leno boxes his grandmother.  Meat Loaf destroys a car.  Even Elvis Costello and Eddie Money make brief appearances.  While Chet falls in love with one of the performers, his chief-of-staff (Fred Willard) plots, with the leaders of a new Middle Eastern superstate, to sabotage the telethon.

Based on a play by the Firesign Theater, Americathon has a big, talented cast that is let down by Neal Israel’s uncertain direction and a script that is only rarely funny.  The idea of America hosting a tacky telethon to pay its debts sounds like a good SNL skit (especially if Bill Murray played the host) but the premise is too thin for a feature film.  Like Airplane! or The Naked Gun films, Americathon is a movie that tosses every joke it can against the wall to see what will stick.  If the jokes are good, like in Airplane!, that formula can lead to a comedy classic.  If the jokes are bad, not even John Ritter, Harvey Korman, and Fred Willard can make them funny.

Today, if Americathon is remembered, it’s because it supposedly predicted several future events.  Americathon does take place in a future where China is an economic superpower, Nike is a huge conglomerate, and reality game shows are very popular.  But, even with those correct predictions, Americathon is a such a film of its time that it was probably dated from the minute that it was released.  Just the sight of John Ritter in a condo permanently marks Americathon as a film of and about the ’70s.

George Carlin does score a few laughs as the narrator and Elvis Costello performs both Crawlin’ To The USA and (I Don’t Want To Go To) Chelsea.  Eagle-eyed viewers might want to keep an eye out for the tragic Playboy playmate, Dorothy Stratten, who has a brief non-speaking role.  Otherwise, Americathon is as hopeless as the country it’s trying to save.

The American Photography of Carol M. Highsmith

Ever since the 1980s, Carol M. Highsmith has been exploring America and taking photographs of what she finds.  Starting in 2009, Highsmith has been donating her life’s work of more than 100,000 images to the Library of Congress.  Highsmith’s photographs emphasizes the corners and parts of America that are in danger of disappearing in the face of progress and development.  By donating them royalty-free, Highsmith has provided people everywhere with the chance to see parts of America that they might not otherwise have the chance to experience.  As a photographer, she’s been a huge influence on my own work.

I first wrote about Carol Highsmith and her work in 2012.  This year, for the 4th of July, I’m going to share more of Highsmith’s American photography.  The first 10 pictures below were taken in Texas.  The rest were taken elsewhere.







TOMAHAWK Fights The War of Independence – in Comic Books!

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There weren’t very many comic-book heroes (super or otherwise) whose adventures took place during the Revolutionary War era. In fact, I can only think of one – DC’s Tomahawk, who made his four-color debut in Star-Spangled Comics #69 back in 1947. Tomahawk fought not only the British, but Indian co-conspirators in the pages of Star-Spangled and World’s Finest, getting his own book in 1950, which had a 140 issue run until folding in 1972.

Writer Ed France Herron and artist Fred Ray produced the bulk of Tomahawk’s tales, and being a comic book there were some sci-fi elements added during the 50’s, and campy super villains in the 60’s. Tomahawk even introduced America’s first superheroine Miss Liberty, a frontier nurse by day who fought alongside Tomahawk in 22 issues. In honor of the July 4th holiday, here’s a gallery of covers chronicling the thrilling stories of Tomahawk:

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Celebrate Independence Day with Ray Charles and “America the Beautiful”

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Today is the 4th of July, American Independence Day, and I can’t think of a better way to kick off the festivities than watching the great Ray Charles sing “America the Beautiful” at Game 2 of the 2001 World Series:

Happy 242nd birthday, America! Have a safe 4th of July celebration from Cracked Rear Viewer!

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Happy Independence Day From The Shattered Lens!

Hi everyone!  Lisa here!

Usually, whenever a holiday rolls around, the TSL’s mascot — Doc the Ennui Kitty — will post something wishing all of you a safe and happy holiday.  Some people have pointed out that not only are we one of the few sites to feature a cat as a contributor but also that most cats aren’t capable of writing complete sentences.  I’m not sure what they’re trying to imply.  Doc’s a very smart cat.

Anyway, for this holiday, I’m handling the honors because I actually do have something serious to talk about.  I love fireworks.  My entire family loves fireworks.  Up until I turned ten, I always used to enjoy summer trips through the Southwest, during which my father would pick up the latest in illegal fireworks.  It was fun and it taught me a very important lesson (as my father put it, “Nobody tells a Bowman what to do!  Nobody!”)  On July 3rd, the Mayor of Los Angeles attempted to illustrate the importance of firework safety by posting a video of a watermelon getting blown to bits by a firework that he claimed was the size of a stick of gum.  I watched that video at work and I literally yelled out, “That is so fucking awesome!!!!”

That said, if you’re planning on shooting off fireworks or firecrackers tonight, be smart.  Four years ago, some people who lived across the street from us decided to get drunk and shoot off fireworks in the middle of the street.  This was on a residential block and they came close to setting my neighbor’s front yard on fire.  Someone called the cops on them.  It wasn’t me because I don’t believe in snitching.  Me, I was just planning on slashing their tires after they all went to sleep.

Also, animals do not like fireworks.  Keep that in mind.  For a cat or a dog who has no idea that it’s Independence Day, fireworks are terrifying.  If you own pets, keep them inside.  If you’re driving home, keep an eye on the road for any of our furry friends who might, at that moment, be out of their mind with fear.

Also, keep your neighbors in mind.  One person’s fun can be another person’s trigger.  During Independence Day, we always talk about how much we love our veterans.  Prove it by considering what they’ve gone through before you set off those firecrackers at 3 in the morning.

I guess what I’m saying is the best way to celebrate the 4th is by not being a jerk.

Thank you and, from me, Doc, and everyone else here at the Shattered Lens: happy holidays!