Ah, the ancient art of rhetoric. There’s no escaping it. Variously defined as “the art of argumentation and discourse” or, by Aristotle in his fragmented treatise, as “the means of persuasion [that] could be found in the matter itself; and then stylistic arrangement,” rhetoric is complicated. Aristotle’s definition further breaks down into three distinct types, and he illustrates each with literary examples. And if you’ve ever picked up a rhetorical guide—ancient, medieval, or modern—you’ll be familiar with the lists of hundreds of unpronounceable Greek or Latin terms, each one corresponding to some quirky figure of speech.
Well, as usual, the internet provides us with an easier way in the form of the video above of 10 figures of speech “as illustrated by Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” one of the most literate of popular artifacts to ever appear on television. There’s “paradiastole,” the fancy term for euphemism, demonstrated by John Cleese’s overly decorous newscaster. There’s “epanorthosis,” or “immediate and emphatic self-correction, often following a slip of the tongue,” which Eric Idle overdoes in splendid fashion. Every possible poetic figure or grammatical tic seems to have been named and catalogued by those philosophically resourceful Greeks and Romans. And it’s likely that the Pythons have utilized them all. I await a follow-up video in lieu of reading any more rhetorical textbooks.
In early 1920, posters began appearing all over Berlin with a hypnotic spiral and the mysterious command Du musst Caligari werden — “You must become Caligari.”
The posters were part of an innovative advertising campaign for an upcoming movie by Robert Wiene called The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. When the film appeared, audiences were mesmerized by Wiene’s surreal tale of mystery and horror. Almost a century later, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is still celebrated for its rare blending of lowbrow entertainment and avant-garde art. It is frequently cited as the quintessential cinematic example of German Expressionism, with its distorted perspectives and pervasive sense of dread.
Like many nightmares, Caligari had its origin in real-life events. Screenwriter Hans Janowitz had been walking late one night through a fair in Hamburg’s red-light district when he heard laughter. Turning, he saw an attractive young woman disappear behind some bushes in a park. A short time later a man emerged from the shadows and walked away. The next morning, Janowitz read in the newspapers that a young woman matching the description of the one he had seen had been murdered overnight at that very location.
Haunted by the incident, Janowitz told the story to fellow writer Carl Mayer. Together they set to work writing a screenplay based on the incident, drawing also on Mayer’s unsettling experience with a psychiatrist. They imagined a strange, bespectacled man named Dr. Caligari who arrives in a small town to demonstrate his powers of hypnotism over Cesare, a sleep walker, at the local fair. A series of mysterious murders follows.
Janowitz and Mayer sold their screenplay to Erich Pommer at Decla-Film. Pommer at first wanted Fritz Lang to direct the film, but Lang was busy with another project, so he gave the job to Wiene. One of the most critical decisions Pommer made was to hire Expressionist art director Hermann Warm to design the production, along with painters Walter Reimann and Walter Röhrig. As R. Barton Palmer writes at Film Reference:
The principle of Warm’s conception is the Expressionist notion of Ballung, that crystallization of the inner reality of objects, concepts, and people through an artistic expression that cuts through and discards a false exterior. Warm’s sets for the film correspondingly evoke the twists and turnings of a small German medieval town, but in a patently unrealistic fashion (e.g., streets cut across one another at impossible angles and paths are impossibly steep). The roofs that Cesare the somnambulist crosses during his nighttime depredations rise at unlikely angles to one another, yet still afford him passage so that he can reach his victims. In other words, the world of Caligari remains “real” in the sense that it is not offered as an alternative one to what actually exists. On the contrary, Warm’s design is meant to evoke the essence of German social life, offering a penetrating critique of semiofficial authority (the psychiatrist) that is softened by the addition of a framing story. As a practicing artist with a deep commitment to the political and intellectual program of Expressionism, Warm was the ideal technician to do the art design for the film, which bears out Warm’s famous manifesto that “the cinema image must become an engraving.”
The screenwriters were disappointed with Wiene’s decision to frame the story as a flashback told by a patient in a psychiatric hospital. Janowitz, in particular, had meant Caligari to be an indictment of the German government that had recently sent millions of men to kill or be killed in the trenches of World War I. “While the original story exposed authority,” writes Siegfried Kracauer in From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film, “Wiene’s Caligari glorified authority and convicted its antagonist of madness. A revolutionary film was thus turned into a conformist one — following the much-used pattern of declaring some normal but troublesome individual insane and sending him to a lunatic asylum.”
Is this wrong? Benjamin Percy (author of the werewolf thriller Red Moon) takes the sweet children’s bedtime story, Goodnight Moonby Margaret Wise Brown, and turns it into a story that will keep kids (and maybe adults) awake for days on end — perhaps leaving parents no choice but to have the real Werner Herzog read Go the F**k to Sleep. This recording comes courtesy ofGraywolf Press, and don’t forget to look under your bed.
American movie stars have long found work across the pacific in Japanese television commercials: Nicolas Cage, Paul Newman, Dennis Hopper, Harrison Ford, Jodie Foster — the list goes on. If their spots aired stateside, we’d probably buy what they sell too, but celebrities in their image-protective league have thus far shown a reluctance to endorse products in their own country. Japan’s ad industry hasn’t only sought the participation of America’s big-name actors, though; it’s also gone after the directors. At the top, you’ll see one featuring a filmmaker never afraid of exposure: Pulp Fiction auteur Quentin Tarantino taking a turn in local costume (and alongside a talking dog) in a commercial for Japanese cell phone service provider Softbank. Just below, we have Orson Welles, he of Citizen Kane and British frozen-peas narration alike, in a spot for G&G Whisky.
“I direct films and act in them,” Welles says by way of introduction. “What we’re always trying for is perfection, but of course, that’s only a hope. But with G&G, you can rely on it.” It may put you in the mind of Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation, wherein Bill Murray’s character famously turns up in Japan to shoot a whisky commercial of his own. Makers of that beverage have shown quite an interest in the imprimatur of cinema’s luminaries, Eastern as well as Western.
We’ve previously featured a Suntory commercial including not just The Gofather and Apocalypse Now director Francis Ford Coppola, but Akira Kurosawa, the maker of Rashomon and Seven Samurai, known in his homeland as “the Emperor.” It makes you wonder: do we in America know our directors well enough that they could sell us things? Then again, the Japanese did enjoy all those old Woody Allen Seibu spots when most of them still hadn’t a clue about the beloved filmmaker’s identity.
I am of the rather uncontroversial opinion that any marriage is what any two people make of it themselves. I’m also of the opinion that no matter how many people may publicly disagree with that idea, in private, people make their own rules. Nonetheless, the less outspoken among us often respond to moralists and scolds in our lives with the live-and-let live attitude expressed by a character in E.M. Forster’s Where Angels Fear to Tread: “Let Philip say what he likes, and he will let us do what we like.”
Such passive-aggressive arrangements can be alienating, an opinion Mark Twain seemed to hold when he announced to his family the upcoming nuptials to his future wife of 34 years, Olivia Langdon. In a display of what Booktryst calls “the sort of sentiment deeply appreciated by a prospective spouse,” Twain wrote his family in 1869 to tell them the news, and he tried to win them over. His announcement is a “gushing, self-deprecating declaration of intent.” One, moreover, that presumes his audience’s contrariness. The then 34-year-old Twain anticipates and addresses what seems his family’s primary objection to his marriage in general: he details his financial plans and expresses his intention to proceed “unaided.”
Twain then mounts his best persuasive case to sway his readers—Mother & Brother & Sisters & Nephew & Niece, & Margaret—in Langdon’s favor. He says that everyone who knows her “naturally” loves her. He also goes so far as to say that Langdon “set herself the task of making a Christian of me” and that “she would succeed.” Anyone who knows Twain’s attitudes toward religion, and Christianity in particular, may see some hyperbole, or even disingenuousness, here, but perhaps it’s a sincere expression of how far he was willing to go for the woman who stood by his side as he lost his fortune and hers in scheme after failed get-rich-quick scheme. As Booktryst nicely puts it, “Aside from pen & paper, the only investment that ever paid off for him was his effort to win the heart of Olivia Langdon.”
This is to inform you that on yesterday, the 4th of February, I was duly & solemnly & irrevocably engaged to be married to Miss Olivia L. Langdon, of Elmira, New York. Amen. She is the best girl in all the world, & the most sensible, & I am just as proud of her as I can be.
It may be a good while before we are married, for I am not rich enough to give her a comfortable home right away, & I don’t want anybody’s help. I can get an eighth of the Cleveland Herald for $25,000, & have it so arranged that I can pay for it as I earn the money with my unaided hands. I shall look around a little more, & if I can do no better elsewhere, I shall take it.
I am not worrying about whether you will love my future wife or not—if you know her twenty-four hours & then don’t love her, you will accomplish what nobody else has ever succeeded in doing since she was born. She just naturally drops into everybody’s affections that comes across her. My prophecy was correct. She said she never could or would love me—but she set herself the task of making a Christian of me. I said she would succeed, but that in the meantime she would unwittingly dig a matrimonial pit & end up tumbling into it—& lo! the prophecy is fulfilled. She was in New York a day or two ago, & George Wiley & his wife Clara know her now. Pump them, if you want to. You shall see her before very long.
Between 750 BC and 400 BC, the Ancient Greeks composed songs meant to be accompanied by the lyre, reed-pipes, and various percussion instruments. More than 2,000 years later, modern scholars have finally figured out how to reconstruct and perform these songs with (it’s claimed) 100% accuracy.
[Ancient Greek] instruments are known from descriptions, paintings and archaeological remains, which allow us to establish the timbres and range of pitches they produced.
And now, new revelations about ancient Greek music have emerged from a few dozen ancient documents inscribed with a vocal notation devised around 450 BC, consisting of alphabetic letters and signs placed above the vowels of the Greek words.
The Greeks had worked out the mathematical ratios of musical intervals – an octave is 2:1, a fifth 3:2, a fourth 4:3, and so on.
The notation gives an accurate indication of relative pitch.
So what did Greek music sound like? Below you can listen to David Creese, a classicist from the University of Newcastle, playing “an ancient Greek song taken from stone inscriptions constructed on an eight-string ‘canon’ (a zither-like instrument) with movable bridges. “The tune is credited to Seikilos,” says Archaeology Magazine.
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One night in October of 1938, listeners tuned into CBS radio to hear a piece of radio theater (listen below) so frightening and, for its time, realistic, that people across New England and eastern Canada fled their homes to escape danger. Or so the legend goes. With Orson Welles reading the part of an astronaut and professor, the Mercury Theatre on the Air’s broadcast of War of the Worlds hit a frayed nerve in the American public.
The show aired during the tense years leading up to World War II, when fascism was on the rise in Europe. Many took the “news” of an alien invasion for truth. It would have been easy to be fooled: the story, adapted from H.G. Wells’ early sci-fi novel, was written as a simulated news broadcast. It opened with an introduction from the novel and a note that the adaptation was set a year ahead (1939). For those who missed that disclaimer, the remainder of the show was unsettling to say the least.
A reporter read a weather report. Then came dance music played by a fictitious band (“Ramon Raquello and his Orchestra”) that was interrupted by news of bizarre explosions on the surface of Mars. Soon Orson Welles made his appearance, interviewed as an expert who denied the possibility of any life on the red planet. But then came the news of a cylindrical meteorite landing in northern New Jersey. A crowd gathered and a “reporter” came on the scene to watch the cylinder unscrew itself and reveal a rocketship inside.
Chaos ensued, followed by a Martian invasion of New York City, where people ran into the East River “like rats.”
Welles offered another disclaimer at the end of the story (when the aliens succumbed to Earth’s pathogens) to remind listeners that the broadcast was fiction.
Too little, too late? Or just great theater?
The next day, Welles held a brilliant news conference where he apologized for putting a fright into listeners. (It’s another great piece of theater.) Meanwhile the broadcast established the Mercury Theatre on the Air—already an acclaimed stage production company—as one of America’s top-rated radio programs. Until then the show had languished in relative obscurity. After sending thousands of people into a panic, the show earned advertising sponsorship from Campbell’s Soup.
Kate Rix writes about digital media and education. Follow her on Twitter.
Note: If you’re having difficulties getting this software running in your browser give Firefox a try. It seems to work the best.
They say a bit more about the technology behind all this on the Internet Archive Blog, and the Historical Software Archive’s front page offers recommendations for which “ground-breaking and historically important software products” to try first, including 1.) Jordan Mechner’s Karateka (top), a hot game in 1980 and the most popular item in the archive today; 2) Sierra On-Line’s Mystery House (above), which gave rise more or less by itself to a vast genre of graphic adventures; 3) three adaptations of Namco’s Pac-Man (one for the Atari 2600, one remade for that same console, one lawsuit-inducing knockoff for the lesser-known Odyssey2); 4) E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, a “1982 adventure video game developed and published by Atari, Inc. for the Atari 2600 video game console;” and 5) Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston’s Visi-Calc (below), the granddaddy of all spreadsheet programs, and arguably the single application that turned computing from hobby into necessity. Or how about 6) WordStar, the early word processing program? Just click on the “Run an in-browser emulation of the program” link to fire up any of these and, if you’re under about 30, experience just what computer users of the late seventies and early eighties had to deal with — and how much fun they had.
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