Movie Accent Expert Analyzes 31 Actors Playing Other Famous People: Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles, Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy, Cate Blanchett as Bob Dylan, and More

Well-known figures' voices are often as distinctive as their thousand-watt smiles and influential hairdos.

While there is some evidence as to the accents and idiosyncratic speech patterns of such historical heavy hitters as Thomas Edison, Florence Nightingale, and Harry Houdini, technological improvements have really upped the ante for those charged with impersonating real life people from the mid 20th-century onward.




Natalie Portman had to sustain her Jackie Kennedy impersonation for an entire feature-length biopic, a performance dialect coach Erik Singer gives high marks, above. Portman, he explains, has truly internalized Jackie’s idiolect, the individual quirks that add yet another layer to such signifiers as class and region.

As evidence, he submits a side-by-side comparison of the First Lady’s famous 1962 televised tour of the White House renovations she had spearheaded, and Portman’s recreation thereof.

Portman has done her homework with regard to breath pattern, pitch, and the refinement that strikes most 21st century ears as a bit stilted and strange. Most impressive to Singer is the way Portman transfers Kennedy’s oddly musical elongation of certain syllables to other words in the script. Tis no mere parrot job.

Jamie Foxx’s Oscar-winning turn as Ray Charles succeeds on copious research and his ability to inhabit Charles’ habitual smile. Obviously, the posture in which an individual holds their mouth has a lot to do with the sound of their voice, and Foxx was blessed with plenty of source material.

The 1982 epic Gandhi provided the versatile Ben Kingsley with the opportunity to showcase not one, but two, idiolects. The adult Gandhi underwent a dramatic and well documented evolution from the British accent he adopted as a young law student in London to a proudly Indian voice better suited to inspiring a nation to unify against its British colonizers.

It’s likely that many of us have never considered the speech-related building blocks Singer scrutinizes while analyzing 29 other performances for the WIRED video, above—epenthesis, tongue positions, relative degrees of emphatic muscularity, and retroflex consonants—but it’s easy to see how they play a part.

Singer invites you to expand his research and teaching library by recording yourself speaking extemporaneously and reading from two sample texts here. Pray that whoever plays you in the biopic gets it right.

Related Content:

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Why Do People Talk Funny in Old Movies?, or The Origin of the Mid-Atlantic Accent

Watch Meryl Streep Have Fun with Accents: Bronx, Polish, Irish, Australian, Yiddish & More

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  See her onstage in New York City through December 20th in the 10th anniversary production of Greg Kotis’ apocalyptic holiday tale, The Truth About Santa, and the book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Hunter S. Thompson, Existentialist Life Coach, Presents Tips for Finding Meaning in Life

hst

Image by Steve Anderson, via Wikimedia Commons

At first blush, Hunter S. Thompson might be the last person you would want to ask for advice. After all, his daily routine involved copious amounts of cocaine, LSD and Chivas Regal. He once raked a neighbor’s house with gunfire. And he once almost accidentally blew up Johnny Depp. Yet beneath his gonzo persona lay a man who thought deeply and often about the meaning of it all. He was someone who spent a lifetime staring into the abyss.

So in 1958, before he became a counter-culture icon, before he even started writing professionally, Thompson wrote a long letter about some of the big questions in life to his friend, Hume Logan, who was in the throes of an existential crisis.




While the first couple of paragraphs warns against the dangers of seeking advice, Hunter then expounds at length on some deep, and surprisingly level-headed truths. Below are a few pearls of wisdom:

  • Whether to float with the tide, or to swim for a goal. It is a choice we must all make consciously or unconsciously at one time in our lives. So few people understand this!
  • You might also try something called Being and Nothingness by Jean-Paul Sartre, and another little thing called Existentialism: From Dostoyevsky to Sartre. These are merely suggestions. If you’re genuinely satisfied with what you are and what you’re doing, then give those books a wide berth. (Let sleeping dogs lie.)
  • To put our faith in tangible goals would seem to be, at best, unwise. We do not strive to be firemen, we do not strive to be bankers, nor policemen, nor doctors. WE STRIVE TO BE OURSELVES.
  • Let’s assume that you think you have a choice of eight paths to follow (all pre-defined paths, of course). And let’s assume that you can’t see any real purpose in any of the eight. THEN— and here is the essence of all I’ve said— you MUST FIND A NINTH PATH.
  • Is it worth giving up what I have to look for something better? I don’t know— is it? Who can make that decision but you? But even by DECIDING TO LOOK, you go a long way toward making the choice.

The letter was published in the 2013 book, Letters of Note. You can read it in its entirety below.

April 22, 1958
57 Perry Street
New York City

Dear Hume,

You ask advice: ah, what a very human and very dangerous thing to do! For to give advice to a man who asks what to do with his life implies something very close to egomania. To presume to point a man to the right and ultimate goal— to point with a trembling finger in the RIGHT direction is something only a fool would take upon himself.

I am not a fool, but I respect your sincerity in asking my advice. I ask you though, in listening to what I say, to remember that all advice can only be a product of the man who gives it. What is truth to one may be disaster to another. I do not see life through your eyes, nor you through mine. If I were to attempt to give you specific advice, it would be too much like the blind leading the blind.

“To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles … ” (Shakespeare)

And indeed, that IS the question: whether to float with the tide, or to swim for a goal. It is a choice we must all make consciously or unconsciously at one time in our lives. So few people understand this! Think of any decision you’ve ever made which had a bearing on your future: I may be wrong, but I don’t see how it could have been anything but a choice however indirect— between the two things I’ve mentioned: the floating or the swimming.

But why not float if you have no goal? That is another question. It is unquestionably better to enjoy the floating than to swim in uncertainty. So how does a man find a goal? Not a castle in the stars, but a real and tangible thing. How can a man be sure he’s not after the “big rock candy mountain,” the enticing sugar-candy goal that has little taste and no substance?

The answer— and, in a sense, the tragedy of life— is that we seek to understand the goal and not the man. We set up a goal which demands of us certain things: and we do these things. We adjust to the demands of a concept which CANNOT be valid. When you were young, let us say that you wanted to be a fireman. I feel reasonably safe in saying that you no longer want to be a fireman. Why? Because your perspective has changed. It’s not the fireman who has changed, but you. Every man is the sum total of his reactions to experience. As your experiences differ and multiply, you become a different man, and hence your perspective changes. This goes on and on. Every reaction is a learning process; every significant experience alters your perspective.

So it would seem foolish, would it not, to adjust our lives to the demands of a goal we see from a different angle every day? How could we ever hope to accomplish anything other than galloping neurosis?

The answer, then, must not deal with goals at all, or not with tangible goals, anyway. It would take reams of paper to develop this subject to fulfillment. God only knows how many books have been written on “the meaning of man” and that sort of thing, and god only knows how many people have pondered the subject. (I use the term “god only knows” purely as an expression.) There’s very little sense in my trying to give it up to you in the proverbial nutshell, because I’m the first to admit my absolute lack of qualifications for reducing the meaning of life to one or two paragraphs.

I’m going to steer clear of the word “existentialism,” but you might keep it in mind as a key of sorts. You might also try something called Being and Nothingness by Jean-Paul Sartre, and another little thing called Existentialism: From Dostoyevsky to Sartre. These are merely suggestions. If you’re genuinely satisfied with what you are and what you’re doing, then give those books a wide berth. (Let sleeping dogs lie.) But back to the answer. As I said, to put our faith in tangible goals would seem to be, at best, unwise. So we do not strive to be firemen, we do not strive to be bankers, nor policemen, nor doctors. WE STRIVE TO BE OURSELVES.

But don’t misunderstand me. I don’t mean that we can’t BE firemen, bankers, or doctors— but that we must make the goal conform to the individual, rather than make the individual conform to the goal. In every man, heredity and environment have combined to produce a creature of certain abilities and desires— including a deeply ingrained need to function in such a way that his life will be MEANINGFUL. A man has to BE something; he has to matter.

As I see it then, the formula runs something like this: a man must choose a path which will let his ABILITIES function at maximum efficiency toward the gratification of his DESIRES. In doing this, he is fulfilling a need (giving himself identity by functioning in a set pattern toward a set goal), he avoids frustrating his potential (choosing a path which puts no limit on his self-development), and he avoids the terror of seeing his goal wilt or lose its charm as he draws closer to it (rather than bending himself to meet the demands of that which he seeks, he has bent his goal to conform to his own abilities and desires).

In short, he has not dedicated his life to reaching a pre-defined goal, but he has rather chosen a way of life he KNOWS he will enjoy. The goal is absolutely secondary: it is the functioning toward the goal which is important. And it seems almost ridiculous to say that a man MUST function in a pattern of his own choosing; for to let another man define your own goals is to give up one of the most meaningful aspects of life— the definitive act of will which makes a man an individual.

Let’s assume that you think you have a choice of eight paths to follow (all pre-defined paths, of course). And let’s assume that you can’t see any real purpose in any of the eight. THEN— and here is the essence of all I’ve said— you MUST FIND A NINTH PATH.

Naturally, it isn’t as easy as it sounds. You’ve lived a relatively narrow life, a vertical rather than a horizontal existence. So it isn’t any too difficult to understand why you seem to feel the way you do. But a man who procrastinates in his CHOOSING will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance.

So if you now number yourself among the disenchanted, then you have no choice but to accept things as they are, or to seriously seek something else. But beware of looking for goals: look for a way of life. Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living WITHIN that way of life. But you say, “I don’t know where to look; I don’t know what to look for.”

And there’s the crux. Is it worth giving up what I have to look for something better? I don’t know— is it? Who can make that decision but you? But even by DECIDING TO LOOK, you go a long way toward making the choice.

If I don’t call this to a halt, I’m going to find myself writing a book. I hope it’s not as confusing as it looks at first glance. Keep in mind, of course, that this is MY WAY of looking at things. I happen to think that it’s pretty generally applicable, but you may not. Each of us has to create our own credo— this merely happens to be mine.

If any part of it doesn’t seem to make sense, by all means call it to my attention. I’m not trying to send you out “on the road” in search of Valhalla, but merely pointing out that it is not necessary to accept the choices handed down to you by life as you know it. There is more to it than that— no one HAS to do something he doesn’t want to do for the rest of his life. But then again, if that’s what you wind up doing, by all means convince yourself that you HAD to do it. You’ll have lots of company.

And that’s it for now. Until I hear from you again, I remain,

your friend,
Hunter

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in February 2015.

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Hunter S. Thompson’s Decadent Daily Breakfast: The “Psychic Anchor” of His Frenetic Creative Life

How Hunter S. Thompson Gave Birth to Gonzo Journalism: Short Film Revisits Thompson’s Seminal 1970 Piece on the Kentucky Derby

Hunter S. Thompson Chillingly Predicts the Future, Telling Studs Terkel About the Coming Revenge of the Economically & Technologically “Obsolete” (1967)

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. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring lots of pictures of badgers and even more pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads.  The Veeptopus store is here.

The Thoughtful Note That George H.W. Bush Left on Bill Clinton’s Desk Before Leaving the White House (1993)

With the passing of George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton reflected on the life and legacy of his political predecessor, and particularly the thoughtful note that Bush 41 left on his desk, right before leaving the White House. Dated January 20, 1993, it read:

Dear Bill,

When I walked into this office just now I felt the same sense of wonder and respect that I felt four years ago. I know you will feel that, too.

I wish you great happiness here. I never felt the loneliness some Presidents have described.

There will be very tough times, made even more difficult by criticism you may not think is fair. I’m not a very good one to give advice; but just don’t let the critics discourage you or push you off course.

You will be our President when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well.

Your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.

Good luck—

George

It's hard not to see this letter as a relic of an irretrievable age in American politics. But Clinton won't quite buy that. He writes today in the Washington Post: "Given what politics looks like in America and around the world today, it’s easy to sigh and say George H.W. Bush belonged to an era that is gone and never coming back — where our opponents are not our enemies, where we are open to different ideas and changing our minds, where facts matter and where our devotion to our children’s future leads to honest compromise and shared progress. I know what he would say: 'Nonsense. It’s your duty to get that America back.'" Soon enough, after enough sturm and drang, the majority of Americans (Electoral College included) may be ready to sign up for that.

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Two Cats Keep Trying to Get Into a Japanese Art Museum … and Keep Getting Turned Away: Meet the Thwarted Felines, Ken-chan and Go-chan

Paging director Hayao Miyazaki.

A compelling subject for a feature length animation is hanging around the sliding glass doors of Hiroshima Prefecture’s Onomichi City Museum of Art.

In June of 2016, a black tomcat started showing up at the museum on the regular, for reasons unknown.




Those open to the sort of narrative whimsy at which Miyazaki excels might choose to believe that the beast was drawn by a cat-themed exhibit of work by noted wildlife photographer and filmmaker Mitsuaki Iwago, a portion of which would have been visible to him through the modern building’s large glass windows.

Whatever his reasons, the cat, Ken-chan, whose owners run a nearby restaurant, was refused entry by a white-gloved security guard and other staffers, whose efforts to send him on his way started blowing up the Internet shortly after his first appearance.

Eventually, Ken-chan started bringing back-up in the form of a well-mannered orange tomcat the museum staff dubbed Go-chan.

Their visits have proved to be a boon for both the small museum and the city they call home.

The New York Public Library has its lions.

Boston’s Public Garden has its ducks.

Onomichi and its small art museum have Ken-chan and Go-chan, whose Internet fame is quickly outpacing the supply of commemorative tote bags, below.

Tender hearted fans bombard the museum’s Twitter account with requests to grant the feline pair entry, but the museum brass is wisely prioritizing dramatic tension over consummation.

Meanwhile, officials in Zelenogradsk, a Russian resort town boasting both a cat museum and giant cat street monument have invited Ken-chan, Go-chan, and museum staff to be their guests in March, for a cat-centric holiday celebration.

For now, Ken-chan and Go-chan are sticking close to home, alternately entertaining and disappointing visitors who show up, camera in hand, hoping to catch them in the act.

Armchair travelers can enjoy a cat’s eye view tour of Onomichi, thanks to Google Street View-style 360-degree camera technology.

And photographer Iwago shares some pro advice for anyone seeking to capture feline subjects:

…male cats are easier to photograph. Male cats seem to have more latitude and leisure in their lives. Because females do things such as raise the kittens, they concentrate more on what goes on around them. Because males are out on patrol, it is more likely that you will encounter them. Because they have the free time, they’ll let you hang out and photograph them.

Depending on the cat, there are a number of ways to get a cat’s attention. For example, when it’s starting to get dark out, you need to use a lower shutter speed. However, this means that the cat will be blurry if it moves. To avoid this, in such situations, I say to the cat, ‘Stop, hold your breath!’ At that instant, when the cat is frozen, I snap the picture. When you speak out to a cat, they get the message. That said, you can also get shots of good cat body language by letting them roam freely. They don’t need to be looking at the camera.

Even a cellphone camera is enough. However, if you don’t have a telephoto lens, you’re going to have to get close to the cat you’re photographing. Due to this, it might be good to use a single-lens reflex (SLR) camera if you are photographing outside. However, if you are photographing the cat you live at home with, a big camera may prove intimidating. To avoid this problem, it is necessary to regularly put your camera in a place that the cat can see. It is good to start snapping pictures only after your cat has gotten over its fear of cameras. If you use a flash to photograph cats indoors, their hair will look spiky and lose its softness. Therefore, I recommend avoiding a flash. I also recommend not using a tripod, considering the line of sight will become too high. When I am photographing cats, I kneel down so that I am at the same eye line as they are. It’s as if I’m crawling forward into battle.

Follow the Onomichi City Museum of Art on Twitter to keep up with Ken-chan and Go-chan.

via The Guardian/Hyperallergic

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC this December for the 10th anniversary production of Greg Kotis’ apocalyptic holiday tale, The Truth About Santa, and the next monthly installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

A New Christmas Commercial Takes You on a Sentimental Journey Through Elton John’s Rich Musical Life

The Bitch is Back…or is he?

Yes, Elton John is spending the next couple of years bidding adieu to fans on his Goodbye Yellow Brick Road world tour.

And yes, there’s a soon-to-be released biopic, Rocketman.

On the other hand, there’s the ridiculously pneumatic two-minute television commercial above, upscale department store John Lewis’s attempt to best rivals Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer in the unofficial British holiday advert bowl.




These annual productions are as hotly anticipated as Superbowl ads, but this year's entry, in which viewers travel backwards in time nearly 70 years to the three-year-old Elton (née Reginald Dwight) receiving a (SPOILER!) piano from his granny, has proved a bit of a misfire.

Viewers are flocking to social media to lambast the ad for inadvertently suggesting that Elton John is the reason for the season. (Popular subjects from Christmases past include Paddington Bear, penguins, and boxer dogs.)

There’s also a bit of cynicism surrounding the fact that John Lewis hustled to add digital keyboards to its inventory prior to the release of “The Boy And The Piano”…

And then there's the rumor that Sir Elton took home £5 million for his participation in the four day shoot.

Several of the star’s most outré looks have been faithfully recreated, but, Christmas aside, it’s hard not to feel that this portrait is rather too sanitized. You won’t find any friends rolling ‘round the basement floor here. His dad, an RAF officer with whom he had a thorny relationship is similarly stricken from the record. There's nary a whisper of drugs or diva-esque behavior.

As columnist Stuart Heritage notes in The Guardian before offering a hilarious alliterative script in which Sir Elton screams profanities, flings vases, and badmouths Madonna:

Elton John isn’t a great pop star because he sings songs about little dancers, crocodiles that rock, and being able to stand up. No, Elton John is a great pop star because he is knotty and complicated and, well, a bit of a dick sometimes.

A number of spoofs have already cropped up, and naturally there’s a Making Of, below—also set to "Your Song"—wherein the young actors who embodied Sir Elton at various stages of his life and career, sometimes with the help of prosthetics, hold forth.

Also… while we don’t dismiss out of hand the possibility that sentimental attachment could have caused Sir Elton to hold on to his childhood piano, we’ll eat our platform boots if that’s what constitutes his Christmas tree.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC this December for the 10th anniversary production of Greg Kotis’ apocalyptic holiday tale, The Truth About Santa, and the next monthly installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

British Doctors To Prescribe Arts & Culture to Patients: “The Arts Are Essential to our Health and Wellbeing”

Photo by Adam Jones, via Wikimedia Commons

The arts and humanities are afterthoughts in many American schools, rarely given priority as part of a comprehensive education, though they formed the basis of one for thousands of years elsewhere. One might say something similar of preventative medicine in the U.S. healthcare system. It’s tempting to idealize the priorities of other wealthy countries. The Japanese investment in “forest bathing,” for example, comes to mind, or Finnish public schools and France's funding of an Alzheimer’s village.

But everyplace has its problems, and no country is an island, exempt from the global pressures of capital or hostile interference.

But if we consider such things as art, music, and dance as essential—not only to an education, but to our general well-being—we must commend the UK’s Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, for his “social prescribing” initiative.




Hancock wants “the country’s doctors to prescribe therapeutic art- or hobby-based treatments for ailments ranging from dementia to psychosis, lung conditions and mental health issues,” reports Meilan Solly at Smithsonian. The plan “could find patients enrolled in dance classes and singing lessons, or perhaps enjoying a personalized music playlist.”

In a speech Hancock delivered on what happened to be election day in the U.S., he referred to a quote from Confucius that represents one particularly ancient educational tradition: “Music produces a kind of pleasure, which human nature cannot do without.” (He also quotes the Rolling Stones' “Satisfaction.”) Hancock’s idea goes beyond aristocratic traditions of old, proclaiming a diet of the arts for everyone.

They’re not just a right in their own terms as the search for truth and expression of the human condition. We shouldn’t only value them for the role they play in bringing meaning and dignity to our lives. We should value the arts and social activities because they’re essential to our health and wellbeing. And that’s not me as a former Culture Secretary saying it. It’s scientifically proven. Access to the arts and social activities improves people’s mental and physical health.

We’ve likely all come across research on the tremendous health benefits of what Warnock calls “social activities,” maintaining friendships and getting out and about. But what does the research into art and health say? “The medical benefits of engaging with the arts are well-recorded,” Solly writes, citing studies of stroke survivors making great strides after performing with the Royal Philharmonic; dance lessons improving clarity and concentration among those with early psychosis; and those with lung conditions improving with singing lessons. Additionally, many studies have shown the emotional lift museum visits and other cultural activities of a social nature can give.

Similar trials have taken place in Canada, but the UK project is “simultaneously more comprehensive and less fleshed-out,” aiming to encourage everything from cooking classes, playing bingo, and gardening to “more culturally focused ventures.” The proposal does not, however, fully address funding or accessibility issues for the most at-risk patients. Hancock’s rhetoric also perhaps heedlessly pits “more prevention and perspiration” against “popping pills and Prozac,” a characterization that seems to trivialize drug therapies and create a false binary where the two approaches can work well hand-in-hand.

Nonetheless, a shift away from “over-medicalising” and toward preventative and holistic approaches has the potential to address not only chronic symptoms of disease, but the non-medical causes—including stress, isolation, and sadness—that contribute to and worsen illness. The plan may require a rigorously individualized implementation by physicians and it will "start at a disadvantage," with 4% cuts per year to the NHS budget until 2021, as Royal College of Nursing public health expert Helen Donovan points out.

Those challenges aside, given all we know about the importance of emotional well-being to physical health, it’s hard to argue with Hancock’s premise. “Access to the arts improves people’s mental and physical health,” he tweeted during his November 6th roll-out of the initiative. “It makes us happier and healthier." Art is not a luxury, but a necessary ingredient in human flourishing, and yet "the arts do not tend to be thought of in medical terms," writes professor of health humanities Paul Crawford, though they constitute a "shadow health service," bringing us a kind of happiness, I’d argue with Confucius, that we simply cannot find anywhere else.

via The Smithsonian

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

Bette Davis Divorced: “She Read Too Much,” Says Husband (1938)

On December 7, 1938, The New York Times reported on the dissolution of Bette Davis' marriage with Harmon “Oscar” Nelson. The stated reason for the divorce? The actress read too much. The report goes on to say: Harmon "usually just sat there while his wife read 'to an unnecessary degree." "She thought her work was more important than her marriage." "She even insisted on reading books or manuscripts when [Harmon] had guests. It was all very upsetting."

Davis later discussed the emotional gulf that had separated the husband and wife. She also addressed an affair with business magnate Howard Hughes--something that apparently got mentioned in the divorce proceedings but not the pages of The New York Times itself.

via @Tom DC Roberts

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