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Watch Orson Welles explain the use of violence in cinema

The use of violence in different mediums has been criticised by various cultural commentators through the years. One artist who found himself trying to defend the artistic purpose of violence, as well as the importance of horror films back in the 20th century, was Orson Welles, the creative mastermind behind Citizen Kane.

Both cinema and video games have faced the brunt of the outrage displayed by concerned parents who feel as if their children are being corrupted by these portrayals of violence, shifting the blame away from the real structural flaws that have plagued society for ages. In recent years, Quentin Tarantino has been routinely attacked for his cinematic sensibilities and his penchant for arthouse action films.

The common criticism that people impose on these violent films and games is that they inspire the “impressionable” youth to engage in acts of juvenile delinquency. Welles had to listen to the same absurd allegations when he appeared for a BBC interview, forced to answer questions about how horror films and comics were destroying society.

“I don’t think that horror films or horror comics contribute to juvenile delinquency,” Welles responded. “I think that they may encourage psychotics and homicidal and other dangerous types but juvenile delinquency, I think, is a symptom of the illness of our age.” The same defence has been used by other filmmakers who have followed in his footsteps, including Tarantino and Brian De Palma among others.

Even Stanley Kubrick faced similar allegations because A Clockwork Orange inspired copycat crimes but the film has survived the test of time because of its enormous artistic importance. Welles argued that the tendency to rebel is a universal characteristic of youth and if they were really influenced by horror films, they would be coming out of the theatres and causing riots.

The interviewers pushed back by saying that westerns and horror films glorify violence which is detrimental to youth but Welles retorted: “I think that all vital periods of drama and of literature are periods of great violence.” Exasperated by Welles’ logic, the interviewer said that the problem with horror films is that virtue doesn’t triumph in them. Welles beautifully answered that virtue doesn’t triumph in Edgar Allan Poe’s work either, one of the greatest American writers in history.

Watch the interview with Orson Welles below.