Orson Welles and John Milton

Film maker Orson Welles and poet John Milton aren’t usually lumped together, but they both show up in commentary by Jeffery Hodges of the Gypsy Scholar blog. Responding to Daniel Pink’s Wired article on David Galenson, Hodges proposes that Milton was a mixture of experimental and conceptual innovator:

“I wonder if some geniuses might encompass both conceptualist and experimentalist stylesJohn Milton and thus constitute a third category. Milton, for instance (whom, you may recall, I’ve occasionally blogged about), strikes me as fitting both categories. He showed extraordinary ability from an early age and wrote some excellent, groundbreaking poetry as a young man and would have been remembered as a great literary figure even if he had died young, but because he lived on to an old age and wrote the epic Paradise Lost, he’s remembered for that work of genius more than for his youthful ones.”

Hodges also suggests that Galenson’s approach can shed light on a recent dispute about whether film maker Orson Welles was a genius. The debate was triggered by film critic Richard Schickel’s harsh words in an August review of two books about Welles. The review starts:

“If, as the saying goes, genius is defined by an infinite capacity for taking pains, then Orson Welles was no genius. If, as another saying goes, God is in the details, then there was nothing godlike about him, either — despite the worshipful posturings of his many acolytes. … How, people go on wondering, could the man who created ‘Citizen Kane,’ arguably the greatest of all American films, fritter away the rest of his life — nearly half a century — on movies spoiled by his own inattention or by the machinations of others or, worse, simply abandoned with many of their most significant elements lost?”

Hodges notes the problem with Schickel’s position: “Welles … is classed among the conceptualists, which suggests that Richard Schickel is a bit one-sided in his criticism because he faults Welles for not fitting a category of genius that sounds more like Galenson’s experimentalist sort.”


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