Novel Review: 1988 by Richard D. Lamm and Arnold Grossman


From my aunt’s paperback collection, comes 1988!

1988 is a novel about the 1988 Presidential election. It was published in 1986 so, when it first came out, it was meant to be a look at a possible future. But read today, it’s more like a work of alternate history. What if, the book asks, the 1988 election had been disrupted by a third party candidate?

That candidate is Stephen Wendell, who is the governor of Texas. You can tell that this book was written a long time ago because Wendell is described as being a Democratic governor of Texas. There hasn’t been a Democrat elected statewide in Texas for a while and that’s probably not going to change anytime soon. (Sorry, Beto, but it’s true.) Wendell is also a conservative Democrat, which is yet another reminder that we’re dealing with an old book. With neither the Republican nor the Democratic candidate exciting the country, Wendell sees an opening for his populist, anti-immigration message.

Jerry Bloom is a former 60s radical who now works as a campaign consultant. At first, he resists Wendell’s attempts to hire him but Bloom finally gives in. Some of it is because Wendell seems to be more reasonable than Bloom originally assumed. A lot of it is because Bloom wants the challenge. As a result of Bloom’s hard-hitting and frequently viscous commercials, Wendell starts to rise up in the polls.

Bloom’s conscience is bothered, however. He used to believe in stuff but now he finds himself as just a political mercenary, turning the country against itself. Plus, Bloom comes across evidence that there’s a secret conspiracy behind Wendell’s campaign, one that could put the future of the Republic at stake!

1988 is an okay political thriller. The plot isn’t particularly surprising and you’ll figure out what’s going on long before Bloom does but, for the most part, it’s a well-written book and Jerry Bloom is an interesting character. I do think that the book overestimates that power of Bloom’s commercials. For the most part, they sound like the type of stuff that The Lincoln Project posted throughout 2020, commercials that would speak to the already converted while turning off the undecided voters. Bloom’s commercials sound like they would be popular with Wendell’s base but they don’t sound like the sort of thing that would make him a potential president.

The book also makes the mistake of including a character named Harrison Chase, who I guess is supposed to be some sort of Edward R. Murrow type. He gives commentaries on the evening news and 1988 devotes page after page to Harrison Chase bitching about the election. Most of the commentaries come across as being pompous and self-important, which might be the most realistic part of the book. But it still doesn’t make them particularly interesting to read. They slow down the action and they also contribute to the book ending on an annoying ambiguous note.

Political junkies will enjoy counting up all of the real-life politicians who are mentioned in the book. (Joe Biden gets a shout-out because he’s been around forever.) Some may also find it interesting that one of the book’s co-authors was governor of Colorado at the time that he wrote the book. One has to wonder how much of that experience contributed to the book’s portrait of the electorate as being easily led and intellectually vapid.

1988 is okay. It goes a little heavy on the “political consultants are bad” angle. It’s not a bad message but it’s hardly a revolutionary. Still, it’s always interesting to read older political books and see how much things have changed and also how much they’ve remained the same.

Better Late Than Never? “The Christmas Before/Santer”


The holidays may be mercifully over, but considering that I got my review copy of Ryan Alves and Ron Beek III’s new “split release” comic (co-published under the auspices of Alves’ AWE Comics and Beek’s Wtfawta), The Christmas Before/Santer, after the purportedly most wonderful time of the year had run its course, I was left with two options : review it now to keep the unseasonability of doing so to a minimum, or sit on it until next Christmas. I chose the former since the comic was still fresh in my mind and since it’s still available for purchase, which may not be the case in 11 months.

Before we delve too deeply into the particulars of the book itself, I should state that it seems the image of Santa Claus has fallen on rather hard times, which I suppose is to be expected in this cynical age, but we’re four decades on from films like Christmas Evil and Silent Night, Deadly Night, and the simple fact remains that there isn’t much of a “middle ground” for the character between jolly bringer of gifts and joy and psychotic serial killer apart from Bad Santa, which has become something of a latter-day holiday classic. You’d think somebody else would mine the fertile territory that is a debased but not altogether evil iteration of St. Nick, but for whatever reason, no one’s picked that ball up and run with it to any appreciable degree.

Not that I’m paying particularly close attention, mind you : Christmas and popular culture have merged into one inseparable commercialized entity at this point, and it’s one that I couldn’t frankly care less about — but that certainly didn’t preclude me from quite enjoying this comic, which is a testament in and of itself to the talents of the cartoonists who made it. I mean, if you can hold my interest with a Christmas-themed comic in the first place you’re doing something right, and if you can manage to do so in the days immediately following the end of a holiday season that I’m nothing but happy to see firmly in the rear view mirror, you’re doing something doubly right.

Not that I would expect anything less from these guys, both of whom have impressed me with their solo and collaborative efforts in the past, but I think turning their creative juices loose on a single connecting theme really draws attention to the different sensibilities each brings to the table, as well as the tonal similarities that make this pairing such a natural one. They’ve both, for instance, chosen to place their versions of St. Nick somewhere beneath Bad Santa but above the various “Santa slashers” on our makeshift “creepy Santa” scale, and both are masters at utilization of blacks, whites, and gray tones in their art (Alves’ cartooning leaning more toward abstraction and Beek’s more toward formal realism), but whereas Alves sets his wordless interpretive yarn in the dim reaches of prehistory, Beek’s story is very much contemporary, urban, and depressingly believable. Contrasts and convergences are the name of the game here, two sides of the same coin, so it’s entirely fitting that this is formatted as a true “flip book,” with each story given its own cover and both, quite literally, meeting in the middle.

The natural enough question following along from all this would be, of course, “so which story did you like better?,” but as much as this will no doubt sound like a cop-out, I found both to be successful for entirely different reasons. Alves’ The Christmas Before leaves one with more to think about, certainly, given its more mystical nature, but Beek’s Santer is open enough to interpretation as well and perhaps packs a bit more of a wallop in purely visceral terms, so — yeah, don’t force me to choose one or the other since I technically don’t have to anyway.

Besides, of utmost import here is the fact that they work really well together, something not every co-operative creative venture can claim — themed anthologies, in particular, having a rather spotty track record when it comes to maintaining an overall flow to them given that “all these comics are about a similar subject” is often an easy way to avoid the more challenging task of selecting material that either possesses an overall artistic cohesion or establishes a frisson of conceptual and aesthetic tension throughout, both of which of course offer their own rewards. Alves and Beek give us the best of both worlds here, presenting two discrete but linked comics stories that manage to play off each other and stand in stark contrast to one another. Don’t ask me how that works, just be glad that it does.

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The Christmas Before/Santer is available for $5.00 from the AWE Comics Storenvy site at https://www.storenvy.com/products/34444423-the-christmas-before-santer

Also, this review is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Subscribing is the best way to support my continuing work, so I’d be very appreciative if you’d take a moment to give it a look by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

Gunfighters (1947, directed by George Waggner)


Brazos Kane (Randolph Scott) is a legendary gunfighter who has more notches on his gunbelt then he can count.  His reputation is so fearsome that he can’t even enter a town without having to worry about someone drawing a gun on him in an attempt to make a name for themselves.  When he’s forced to shoot his own best friend when the latter tries to outdraw him, Brazos says that he’s had enough.  He tosses aside his guns and he heads to the home of his friend, Bob Tyrell.  Brazos says he’s going to retire from gunfighting and just “ride the range.”

When Brazos reaches Bob’s cabin, he discovers that Bob has been murdered.  When Brazos rides to the nearby Banner ranch to report the crime, he’s arrested and accused of shooting Bob.  When it’s pointed out that Brazos doesn’t have a gun, corrupt Deputy Yount (Grant Withers) says that Brazos most have tossed it in the creek after he shot Bob.

With the help of Bob’s employer, a rancher named Inslip (Charley Grapewin), Brazos narrowly avoids getting hung.  Both Yount and the sheriff (Charles Kemper) encourage Brazos to leave town but Brazos isn’t going anywhere until he gets justice for Bob.  His investigation leads to him getting involved with two sisters (Dorothy Hart and Barbara Britton) and a young cowhand named Johnny (John Miles), who wants to become a famous gunslinger.  It also leads Bob into conflict with Bard Macky (Bruce Cabot) and Hen Orcutt (Forrest Tucker), who are both determined to run Brazos out of town.  Brazos finds himself tempted to go back on his word and pick up his guns yet again.

Based on a novel by Zane Grey, Gunfighters is a surprisingly mature and multi-layered western.  Brazos’s refusal to carry a gun and his genuine dislike of violence makes him a far more interesting protagonist than the typical B-western hero and Randolph Scott, one of the best of the cowboy actors, is appropriately world-weary in the role.  The villains are also written and played with an unexpected amount of depth, with Bruce Cabot the stand-out as Bard Macky.

Gunfighters is full of good scenes.  The opening sequence, featuring the pivotal gunfight between Brazos and his best friend, is excellently directed and captures how quickly violence can erupt in the old west.  Later, when Brazos first meets Johnny, the younger man is engaged in target practice and talking about how a man named Brazos Kane murdered Johnny’s best friend.  Johnny is practicing so he can kill Brazos himself.  Without revealing his identity, Kane gives Johnny a few pointers on how to draw and aim his gun.  It’s only after Johnny has perfected the quick draw that Kane laconically introduces himself and explains that he had nothing to do with Bob’s death.  Later, in a powerfully acted scene, Kane explains to Johnny just what exactly it means to be a famous gunfighter and to know that everyone you see is a potential threat.

Directed by George Waggner, Gunfighters is an intelligent and well-acted western and one of Radolph Scott’s best.

4 Shots From 4 Walter Hill Films


4 Or More Shots From 4 Or More Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

Today, we here at the Shattered Lens wish a happy 80th birthday to the great director Walter Hill.

Walter Hill is one of those legendary figures who has a devoted cult of fans but it still seems like he’s never quite gotten all of the opportunities and the acclaim that he deserved.  Perhaps because so many of his films are considered to be genre pieces, they were often not appreciated until a few years after they were first released.  But for film lovers and film students, Walter Hill is one of the most important directors of the past 50 years.

Today, we celebrate with….

4 Shots From 4 Walter Hill Films

The Warriors (1979, dir by Walter Hill, DP: Andrew Laszlo)

The Long Riders (1980, dir by Walter Hlll, DP: Ric Waite)

Southern Comfort (1981, dir by Walter Hill, DP: Andrew Laszlo)

Streets of Fire (1984, dir by Walter Hill, DP: Andrew Laszlo)

JRJR Gone, Review and Analysis- Case Wright


What if you are living your best life, but it’s horrible?

Depression, Anxiety, and Mental Illness are as common as Brown Eyes, but treated like mystical forces. It wasn’t even until the 1970s that we commonly used the term “Depressed”. Today, we have not acknowledged as a species that the Brain is just another organ. The brain is a miraculous organ, but an organ nonetheless. We are fine with treating a pancreas with insulin, but anti-depressants are still referred to by many as “Happy Pills”, implying recreation; or worse, there use is akin to marijuana or alcohol consumption.

“Gone” was written by Joshua Epstein, Mike Higgins, and Dan Nigro when they were 34. It was featured in films, gained popularity, and yet Joshua remained anxious and sad. Why? It was because Joshua didn’t know that he had clinical Anxiety. The upbeat tempo of the song like his upbeat life and success belied the danger and depression expressed in the lyrics. He was wasn’t diagnosed with Anxiety until after “Gone” was a hit. By danger, I mean suicide. Suicide takes out middle-aged men like a scythe. I have lost friends to it. I’m not writing that ”Gone” was a suicide note, but the lyrics point to it as true a laser sight.

Just as Joshua didn’t know he had anxiety, it was equally likely that he didn’t know that he was writing about suicide. However, I argue that his subconscious must have. The suicide theme has gone unnoticed because the tempo and melody is upbeat. This is similar to the “MASH” theme – “Suicide is Painless”, which used the exact same means to cover up the song’s inherent darkness. Although I believe the “MASH” producers intentionally covered up the theme song’s darkness and JR JR did not.

I will analyze the lyrics and post the video, allowing you to decide if you believe that I am correct.

I’ve made up my mind over and over

Here Joshua is expressing that he doesn’t understand what he’s meant to do. Do I become I dentist like my dad? Do I stay in music? Build canoes in Oregon? These are all dead ends. He’s passionate and smart; so, he might he even be successful at these re-invented Joshua’s, but he’s still wanting.

Keep pressing rewind but I’m getting older
Tried every door, don’t know who I’m looking for

Joshua is in middle-age now and he still has no clear path forward.

And I’ve made up my mind over and over

I can’t be everything you want me to be
I can’t be everything you want me to be

Frustrated, like many middle-aged men. He decides to give up. He’s going to end it.
Finally, I can see the light through the leaves

As he is dying, he looks up from the ground and sees “the light through the trees”. In his last moments, he figures out his path, but he won’t be able to “hit rewind” because his decision is a final one.
But it’s all gone
But it’s all gone

“But it’s all gone” is referring himself being all gone. No more present or future.

What comes from the ground now is returning

“What comes from the ground now is returning” is a reference to Man coming from the ground as clay and now he’s returning- Dust to Dust.
It’s all the same sound and my ears are burning

He states “my ears are burning” because people are talking about him; they’re worried.
In some strange home, don’t know who I’m working for

Now, he’s losing consciousness that’s the “strange home” and because this act is final he doesn’t “know who [he’s] working for because all self-determination and advice is now irrelevant- forever. The final chorus refrain reinforces him drifting into the abyss.
I’ve made up my mind over and over

I can’t be everything you want me to be
I can’t be everything you want me to be
Finally, I can see the light through the leaves
But it’s all gone
But it’s all gone

Over and over, over and over
Over and over, over and over

I can’t be everything you want me to be
I can’t be everything you want me to be
Finally, I can see the light through the leaves
But it’s all gone
But it’s all gone
But it’s all gone

The brain is an organ, but unlike the heart, the brain can call out for help through nightmares, outbursts, reckless behavior, or like this artist’s brain – it used art.

I could be wrong, but I do not believe that I am. If this song or my analysis strikes a chord with you, I implore you to talk to someone ASAP.

Music Video of the Day: Love Me by Yvonne Elliman (1976, dir by ????)


For the past few days, I have been driving everyone around the TSL Compound crazy by continually playing and re-playing the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack.  Though no one will admit it, I’m sure that they’ve all got the lyrics of I Can’t Have You memorized by now.  We could probably start a Bee Gees cover band if we wanted to.  And really, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t!  Leonard can play bass, I’ll sing, Jeff can drum, Erin can play the sitar, it’ll be great!

Well, today, I thought maybe that we would take a break with another Bee Gees song that was covered by Yvonne Elliman, Love Me.  While the Bee Gees version of the song didn’t get much attention, Yvonne Elliman’s cover was a huge hit and it probably played a role in the Bee Gees later writing How Deep Is Your Love for her.  Of course, the Bee Gees later ended up performing How Deep Is Your Love for Saturday Night Fever while Yvonne recorded If I Can’t Have You.  It can be difficult to keep track but the important thing is that everyone got recorded eventually.

Enjoy!

Love me; just a little bit longer
Love me

I remember times my love when we really had it all
You were always there to make me smile, help me when I fall
Ooh, I can’t believe you’re leaving me
When there’s so much more to say – I can’t let you go
Ooh, every time I look at you I still can feel the glow
Let it be, let it grow

Love me please, just a little bit longer
Together we can make it
Our love is much too young to break it
Love me please, just a little bit harder
Together we can make it
Our love is much too young to break it

Ooh, all I ever wanted was to have you to myself
Then I see you standing there in the arms of someone else
Ooh, you know a girl can stand so much
And it’s more then I can bear – I can’t let you go
Ooh, every time I look at you I still can feel the glow
Let it be, let it grow

Love me please, just a little bit longer
Together we can make it
Our love is much too young to break it
Love me please, just a little bit harder

Never even try to see things my way
It’s hard on a woman when love ain’t no love at all
And when you walk away – you probably will
You’re gonna be sorry, I’m begging you; please

Love me please, just a little bit longer
Together we can make it
Our love is much too young to break it
Love me please, just a little bit harder
Together we can make it
Our love is much too young to break it
Love me please, just a little bit longer
Together we can make it
Our love is much too young to break it