Orson Welles Tony Richardson - Essay

Tony Richardson

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Welles breaks all the rules and cracks like a plant out-growing its pot the very capacity of the category we have established. For of all the metteurs en scène he is the most gifted and the most startling. Like many of the others he came from the theatre…. Now, with all the resources of the cinema at his disposal, it was to be expected that he would be even more potent. Seen for the first time, Citizen Kane is just that. The punches are so quick and deadly that his problem becomes not so much one of keeping our attention as of getting us to recover fast enough to take more punishment. Every trick, every effect known to the expert illusionist and master shock-tactician is deployed, down to the screech of the cockatoo. Viewing the film again, one sees not so much this naïve desire to shock and stun but the prodigious, squandering invention.

As serious drama the films mean nothing; the conception and development of the characters is on a magazine journalistic level. But this doesn't matter: when one has said it, one has said nothing about the films themselves. They are not so much dramas as gossip; rich, exhilarating, fabulous gossip about the times and the places and the people Welles has known. Certainly Welles has no moments of great penetration or insight, but as a presentation of the externals, the public personalities of men, their fights, their defeats, their celebrations, his films have never been surpassed. Welles scatters his fine images like an Eastern prince his jewels, and he can range from a splendid, sonorous catalogue of the properties, the castles, the swimming pools, the statues, the zoos, to scenes of … subtlety and complexity…. Above all it is the prodigality of energy, the sheer splendid life and go of it all, that makes his films so invigorating. Anyone who has created the dazzlingly lovely party sequence in The Magnificent Ambersons, or the entrancing sledge ride in the snow, has raised talent to a pitch where it is indistinguishable from genius. (p. 109)

Tony Richardson, "The metteur en scene," in Sight and Sound (copyright © 1954 by The British Film Institute), Vol. 24, No. 2, October-December, 1954, pp. 62-6, 120.∗