Watch a Young Carl Sagan Appear in His First TV Documentary, The Violent Universe (1969)

Much of the world got to know Carl Sagan through Cos­mos: A Per­son­al Voy­age, the thir­teen-part PBS series on the nature of the uni­verse — and the inten­si­ty of Sagan’s own pas­sion to dis­cov­er that nature. First aired in 1980, it would become the most wide­ly watched series in the his­to­ry of Amer­i­can pub­lic tele­vi­sion. But it’s not as if Sagan had been lan­guish­ing in obscu­ri­ty before: he’d been pub­lish­ing pop­u­lar books since the ear­ly 1970s, and 1977’s The Drag­ons of Eden: Spec­u­la­tions on the Evo­lu­tion of Human Intel­li­gence won him a Pulitzer Prize. When Cos­mos made its impact, some view­ers may even have remem­bered its host from a series of sim­i­lar­ly themed broad­casts a decade ear­li­er, The Vio­lent Uni­verse.

Pro­duced by the BBC in 1969 and broad­cast just three months before the Apol­lo 11 moon land­ingThe Vio­lent Uni­verse (view­able above) explains in five parts a range of dis­cov­er­ies made dur­ing the then-recent “rev­o­lu­tion in astron­o­my,” includ­ing infrared galax­ies, neu­tri­nos, pul­sars and quasars, red giants and white dwarfs.

In so doing it includes footage tak­en in obser­va­to­ries not just across the Earth — Eng­land, Puer­to Rico, Hol­land, Cal­i­for­na — but high above it in orbit and even deep inside it, beneath the bad­lands of South Dako­ta. One install­ment pays a vis­it to Kōchi, the rur­al Japan­ese pre­fec­tur­al cap­i­tal where gui­tarist-astronomer Tsu­to­mu Seki makes his home — and his small home obser­va­to­ry, where he had worked to co-dis­cov­er Comet Ikeya–Seki just four years before.

All of this inter­na­tion­al mate­r­i­al — or rather inter­stel­lar mate­r­i­al — is anchored in the stu­dio by tele­vi­sion jour­nal­ist Robert Mac­Neil, lat­er of PBS’ The MacNeil/Lehrer Report, and a cer­tain pro­fes­sor of astron­o­my at Cor­nell Uni­ver­si­ty by the name of Carl Sagan. Despite exud­ing a more delib­er­ate seri­ous­ness than he would in Cos­mos, the young Sagan nev­er­the­less explains the astro­nom­i­cal and astro­phys­i­cal con­cepts at hand with a clar­i­ty and vig­or that would have made them imme­di­ate­ly clear to tele­vi­sion audi­ences of half a cen­tu­ry ago, and indeed still makes them clear to the Youtube audi­ences of today. Apart, per­haps, from its Twi­light Zone-style theme music The Vio­lent Uni­verse has in its visu­al ele­ments aged more grace­ful­ly than the 70s series that made Sagan into a sci­ence icon. And how many oth­er oth­er pub­lic-tele­vi­sion doc­u­men­taries about the uni­verse include poet­ry recita­tions from Richard Bur­ton?

via Boing­Bo­ing

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawk­ing & Arthur C. Clarke Dis­cuss God, the Uni­verse, and Every­thing Else

Carl Sagan Presents Six Lec­tures on Earth, Mars & Our Solar Sys­tem … For Kids (1977)

Carl Sagan Explains Evo­lu­tion in an Eight-Minute Ani­ma­tion

Carl Sagan on the Virtues of Mar­i­jua­na (1969)

Carl Sagan Issues a Chill­ing Warn­ing to Amer­i­ca in His Final Inter­view (1996)

The Pio­neer­ing Physics TV Show, The Mechan­i­cal Uni­verse, Is Now on YouTube: 52 Com­plete Episodes from Cal­tech

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.