Peter Sellers Presents The Complete Guide To Accents of The British Isles

“There was no Peter Sellers,” author Bruce Jay Friedman once wrote. “He was close to panic as himself and came alive only when he was impersonating someone else.”

While Sellers might have been a curiously detached and deeply insecure person in real life, he was a striking, memorable figure on the silver screen. His comic imagination and stunning versatility made him the stand out in just about every movie he was in. In Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, Sellers played three different roles using three very different accents – the upper crust plumminess of Capt. Mandrake, the Midwestern flatness of the hapless President Muffley and the shrieking Teutonic lilt of Dr. Strangelove whose voice is a bit like how one might imagine Henry Kissinger’s after fifteen Red Bulls.

Sellers, of course, got his start in the radio and throughout his career, he continued to make audio recordings of his comedy routines. In his 1979 bit, The Complete Guide To Accents of The British Isles, Sellers shows just how good a mimic he really is.

The piece is narrated by Don Shulman, an American professor of “accents and languages” who likes little more than to go to Europe to “hear the music of the other languages…Hearing French spoke, for example, is a sensual experience.” And then what follows is a minute or so of pitch-perfect gibberish that does in fact sound a lot like French. He then moves on to the sound of other languages. “The music of the German language, on the other hand, is exciting and slightly, well, slightly frightening. Like a shower of cold beer.”

As you might guess from the title, Sellers then moves on to the British Isles. We’re treated to a song about Argentina sung in a nearly incomprehensible Cockney, a meandering monologue by a hotel owner in a similarly dense Sussex accident. Shulman then talks to people in Birmingham, Yorkshire, Glasgow and Liverpool among others. And the whole thing is all done by one spectacularly talented person. It’s like the audio equivalent of a perfectly executed magic trick or dance routine. And, unlike Criss Angel, Sellers is (intentionally) funny. Check out part one up top and part two below that.

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Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow.

Play “Space War!,” One of the Earliest Video Games, on Your Computer (1962)

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Archive.org continues adding to its Historical Software collection. Last year, they made available Donkey Kong, Pac Man, Frogger & other video games from the Golden Age, not to mention some classic software programs like WordStar and Visi-Calc. Now, they present “Space War!”, a game that came out of MIT back in 1962.

This two-player space-battle game -- originally played off the cathode-ray tube of a Digital Equipment PDP-1 -- was considered a major advancement in computer gaming. Today, only one working PDP-1 is known to exist, in the Computer History Museum in northern California. But through the miracle of a JSMESS emulator, you can play "Space War!" right in your web browser. (A fairly powerful computer and recent browser--ideally Firefox--is recommended.) If you end up playing this grandaddy of computer games, let us know how it goes. You can get more info on Space War! here.

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Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” Performed by John Cale (and Produced by Brian Eno)

I've only known a few people of Welsh heritage, and most of them have, at one time or another, looked for a way to pay tribute to their comparatively exotic ancestral homeland. Some start going by their unusual vowel-intensive middle name; others simply start reading a lot of Dylan Thomas. The Garnant-born Velvet Underground co-founder John Cale, who spoke no language but Welsh up until mid-childhood, took it a step further when he recorded 1989's Words for the Dying, his eleventh studio album. Though it contains a few short orchestral and piano pieces, it has more to do with words than music — words written by Cale seven years earlier, during and in response to the Falklands war, that use and re-interpret Thomas' poetry, most notably his well-known villanelle "Do not go gentle into that good night."




At the top of the post, you can watch one of Cale's live renditions of this piece, performed two years before Words for the Dying's release with the Netherlands' Metropole Orkest.

Just above, we have another, performed in 1992 at Brussels' Palais des Beaux Arts. The album enjoyed a re-release that year, and again in 2005, making for another musical victory not just in the illustrious and adventurous career of John Cale, but in the equally illustrious and adventurous career of its producer, Roxy Music founding member, artist of sound and image, and rock musician-inspirer Brian Eno. Though collaboration has famously put Cale and Eno at loggerheads, it has also led to this and other creatively rich results; their 1990 album Wrong Way Up, whose cover depicts the two literally looking daggers at one another, garnered strong critical respect and spawned Eno's only American hit, "Been There, Done That." And as for their team effort on Words for the Dying, need we say more than that it made the year-end top-ten list of no less a luminary of alternative artistic-rock culture than Cale's onetime Velvet Underground bandmate Lou Reed?

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Watch Hand-Drawn Animations of 7 Stories & Essays by C.S. Lewis

I can vividly recall the first time I read C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters. I was fourteen, and I was prepared to be terrified by the book, knowing of its demonic subject matter and believing at the time in invisible malevolence. The novel is written as a series of letters between Screwtape and his nephew Wormwood, two devils tasked with corrupting their human charges, or “patients,” through all sorts of subtle and insidious tricks. The book has a reputation as a literary aid to Christian living—like Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress—but it’s so much more than that. Instead of fire and brimstone, I found ribald wit, sharp satire, a cutting psychological dissection of the modern Western mind, with its evasions, pretensions, and cagey delusions. Stripped of its theology, it might have been written by Orwell or Sartre, though Lewis clearly owes a debt to Kierkegaard, as well as the long tradition of medieval morality plays, with their cavorting devils and didactic human types. Yes, the book is baldly moralistic, but it’s also a brilliant examination of all the twisted ways we fool ourselves and dissemble,  or if you like, get led astray by evil forces.

If you haven't read the book, you can see a concise animation of a critical scene above, one of seven made by "C.S. Lewis Doodle" that illustrate the key points of some of Lewis's books and essays. Lewis believed in evil forces, but his method of presenting them is primarily literary, and therefore ambiguous and open to many different readings (somewhat like the devil Woland in Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita). The author imagined hell as “something like the bureaucracy of a police state or a thoroughly nasty business office,” a description as chilling as it is inherently comic. As you can see above in the animated scene from Screwtape by C.S. Lewis Doodle, the devils—though drawn in this case as old-fashioned winged fiends—behave like petty functionaries as they lead Wormwood’s solidly middle-class “patient” into the sinister clutches of materialist doctrine by appealing to his intellectual vanity. As much as it’s a condemnation of said doctrine, the scene also works as a critique of a popular discourse that thrives on fashionable jargon and the desire to be seen as relevant and well-read, no matter the truth or coherence of one’s beliefs.

Screwtape was by no means my first introduction to Lewis’s works. Like many, many people, I cut my literary teeth on The Chronicles of Narnia (available on audio here) and his brilliant sci-fi Space Trilogy. But it was the first book of his I’d read that was clearly apologetic in its intent, rather than allegorical. I’m sure I’m not unique among Lewis’s readers in graduating from Screwtape to his more philosophical books and many essays. One such piece, “We Have No (Unlimited) Right to Happiness,” takes on the modern conception of rights as natural guarantees, rather than societal conventions. As he critiques this relatively recent notion, Lewis develops a theory of sexual morality in which “when two people achieve lasting happiness, this is not solely because they are great lovers but because they are also—I must put it crudely—good people; controlled, loyal, fair-minded, mutually adaptable people.” The C.S. Lewis Doodle above illustrates the many examples of fickleness and inconstancy that Lewis presents in his essay as foils for the virtues he espouses.

The Lewis Doodle seen here illustrates his 1948 essay “On Living in an Atomic Age,” in which Lewis chides readers for the panic and paranoia over the impending threat of nuclear war in the wake of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Such an occurrence, he writes, would only result in the already inevitable—death—just as the plagues of the sixteenth century or Viking raids:

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things - praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts - not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

It seems a very mature, and noble, perspective, but if you think that Lewis glibly glosses over the substantively different effects of a nuclear age from any other—fallout, radiation poisoning, the end of civilization itself—you are mistaken. His answer, however, you may find as I do deeply fatalistic. Lewis questions the value of civilization altogether as a hopeless endeavor bound to end in any case in “nothing.” “Nature is a sinking ship,” he writes, and dooms us all to annihilation whether we hasten the end with technology or manage to avoid that fate. Here is Lewis the apologist, presenting us with the starkest of options—either all of our endeavors are utterly meaningless and without purpose or value, since we cannot make them last forever, or all meaning and value reside in the theistic vision of existence. I’ve not myself seen things Lewis’s way on this point, but the C.S. Lewis Doodler does, and urges his viewers who agree to “send to your enquiring atheistic mates” his lovely little adaptations. Or you can simply enjoy these as many non-religious readers of Lewis enjoy his work—take what seems beautiful, humane, true, and skillfully, lucidly written (or drawn), and leave the rest for your enquiring Christian mates.

You can watch all seven animations of C.S. Lewis's writings here.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.

Carl Sagan Writes a Letter to 17-Year-Old Neil deGrasse Tyson (1975)

sagan letter to tyson

Carl Sagan, the turtleneck-sporting astrophysicist from Cornell, was the greatest communicator of science of his generation. Not only did he publish hundreds of scientific papers and was instrumental in putting together that golden record on the Voyager spacecrafts but he also wrote twenty critically praised best sellers on science, appeared regularly on the Tonight Show, and even had a catch phrase -- "billions and billions." But Sagan is perhaps best known for his landmark 1980 series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage (watch it here). He took viewers through a tour of the universe, showing them things from the mind-boggling big to the infinitesimally small and everything in between. The show proved to be a huge hit; close to a half-billion people tuned in worldwide.

Even before the reboot of Cosmos premiered on FOX in March, Neil deGrasse Tyson - who hosts the show - was already seen as Sagan’s successor. Not only does he serve as the director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City and was instrumental in kicking Pluto out of the brotherhood of planets, but he also authored numerous books, appears regularly on The Daily Show, and frequently hosts AMAs on Reddit. He's also one of America's most vocal defenders of science at a time, unlike Sagan's heyday, when Creationism, climate change denial, and anti-vaccination hysteria seem to be making inroads in our culture.




Anyone who saw Tyson’s heart felt tribute to Sagan at the beginning of the first episode of Cosmos knows that Sagan’s influence on his younger counterpart extended much further than his media appearances. It was personal. In 1975, Sagan, who was already famous at that time, was so impressed by Tyson’s college application that he personally reached out to him, hoping to convince the high school student to attend Cornell. He even offered to personally show Tyson around his lab.

You can read Sagan’s letter, dated November 12, 1975, below.

Dear Neil:

Thanks for your letter and most interesting resume. I was especially glad to see that, for a career in astronomy, you intend to do your undergraduate work in physics. In this way, you will acquire the essential tools for a wide range of subsequent astronomical endeavors.

I would guess from your resume that your interests in astronomy are sufficiently deep and your mathematical and physical background sufficiently strong that we could probably engage you in real astronomical research during your undergraduate career here, if the possibility interests you. For example, we hope to be bringing back to Ithaca in late calendar year 1976 an enormous array of Viking data on Mars both from the orbiters and from the landers.

I would be delighted to meet with you when you visit Ithaca. Please try and give as much advance notice of the date as you can because my travel schedule is quite hectic right now and I really would like to be in Ithaca when you drop by.

With all good wishes,

Carl Sagan

Tyson was deeply moved by Sagan’s kindness and sincerity. He did venture out to Ithaca from the Bronx on a snowy afternoon. As Tyson recalled years later, “I thought to myself, who am I? I’m just some high school kid.” In the end, Sagan’s personal plea wasn’t quite enough to convince young Tyson to attend his school. As you can read in his response below, dated April 30, 1976, Tyson decided to go to Harvard.

Dear Prof. Sagan

Thank you for your offer concerning the Viking Missions. After long thought and decision making I have chosen to attend Harvard University this September. I chose it not simply because of its “valuable” name but because they have a larger astronomy department in addition to the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, so while I am majoring in physics I will have more surrounding me in the way of on-going research in astronomy.

I want to say that I did enjoy meeting you and I am very grateful for your hospitality and the time you spent with me while at Cornell. I will throughout my undergraduate years keep you informed on any noteworthy news concerning astronomy-related work that I’m involved in. I do plan to apply again for the Viking Internship next summer.

Thanks again

Neil D. Tyson

You can see Tyson talk about his afternoon with Sagan. 40 years later, he still seems incredulous that it happened.

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Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow.

Watch “Bottle,” an Award-Winning Stop Motion Animated Tale of Transoceanic Correspondence

When I was in high school, my boyfriend showed me a film he had shot with his dad's Super 8. It featured a pair of golf clubs escaping from the garage and hustling down the driveway. I was bedazzled by his technique, and amazed that that's how he spent his weekends before he met me.

I thought of those films the other day on a tour of Cal Arts with a prospective student. As part of orientation, our group was shown "Bottle," an award-winning stop motion short created when writer-director Kirsten Lepore was a grad student in the experimental animation program. 

In the minute or so it took our guide to remember how to turn the sound on, I was actually dreading it. I like narrative. Funny. Madeline Sharafian's flat animation "Omelette," which we were shown before "Bottle" as representative of the sort of work going on in the famed Character Animation department, delivered on both counts.

Experimental, though? I pictured a Dali-esque computer generated landscaped starring an anonymous ball, and longed for Scott's dad's golf clubs. They had so much personality.

I am delighted to report that those clubs couldn't hold a candle to the cast you will meet above. I don't want to spoil any surprises. Suffice it to say that the finished product involves sand, snow, the ocean, flotsam, jetsam, a bottle, many miles, and many, many hours of labor. If that, combined with an utterly charming storyline, adds up to experimental, then I am all for experimentation. My kid was ready to change her major after seeing it, but maybe I am the one who needs to attend.

Watch the making of video below to get a feel for the sort of wringer Lepore put herself and her crew through. Obviously not a weekend project.

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Ayun Halliday's golf clubs never stopped running. Follow her @AyunHalliday

Listen to “Brian Eno Day,” a 12-Hour Radio Show Spent With Eno & His Music (Recorded in 1988)

brian-eno-recording-studio

In early 1988, visual artist, rock producer, and "non-musician" musician Brian Eno came to San Francisco. He'd made the trip to put together "Latest Flames," a "sound and light installation" using his own music and "television as a radiant light source" to "create a contemplative environment."  He created this contemplative environment at the Exploratorium, a one-of-a kind museum of "science, art, and human perception" I remember fondly from my own childhood in the Bay Area (though alas, I didn't start going until just after "Latest Flames" closed). During that visit, he spoke on Berkeley's KPFA-FM about his great admiration for the very existence of the Exploratorium, which he thinks could never have happened in his native England, "too fussy" a country to accept such an experimental institution. He also emphasizes how much gratitude he thinks Americans should show for their public radio stations like KPFA, which, in contrast to the admittedly "great radio"-producing broadcasters of the U.K., work more loosely, with greater creative freedom not scheduled on "five-year plans." It surely didn't dampen Eno's appreciation for KPFA that he appeared during the station's "Brian Eno Day," a twelve-hour marathon of material related to his work: music, music analysis, interviews new and old, and even listener calls.

This happened during KPFA's regular pledge drive, and as every American public radio listener knows, pledge drives hold out the promise of desirable thank-you gifts to donating callers. In this case, these enticements included items signed right there in the studio, between turns at the microphone answering questions and chatting with composer-host Charles Amirkhanian, by Eno himself. The autographed Oblique Strategies decks run out first, and even after that people still call in with questions about their origin, their best use, and their future availability. They also (and Amirkhanian, and ambient music expert Stephen Hill) have much else to ask besides, filling the hours — those not occupied by pledge pitches, records Eno produced, or the full length of his own Thursday Afternoon album — with talk of the meaning of his inscrutable lyrics, the recording studio as musical instrument, the making of "Latest Flames," his impatience with computers and synthesizers, his recommended English art schools, and how ambient music differs from new age "muzak." A fan could ask for no richer a listening experience, even 26 years after it first aired — and few more entertaining listening experiences than, toward the end of this long Brian Eno day, the man of the hour's (or rather, of the twelve hours') decision to deliberately answer each and every remaining listener question with a lie. You can stream all of KPFA's 1988 Brian Eno Day above. It's also broken into nine thematic segments at the Internet Archive.

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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