Violence is a major theme in aesthetics. Past or present, latent or active, it is of its nature at the heart of every creative act, even at the very moment it is being denied. To deny that violence exists in a peaceable work is to acknowledge its presence in the deepest level, in the twisted limbs of the work's gestation and in the exercise of will which with fierce determination moulds the material into shape. Violence is decompression: arising out of a tension between the individual and the world, it explodes as the tension reaches its pitch, like an abscess bursting. It has to be gone through before there can be any repose. This is what makes it possible for me to say that every work of art contains violence, or at least postulates it, if art is a way of appeasing violence through its awareness of the terms of the conflict, and the power to resolve it which this knowledge confers.
Sometimes, cinema is talked about in these pages. Cinema is the art most attuned to violence, given that violence springs from man's actions, that moment when a pent-up force overflows and breaches the dam, an angry torrent smashing into anything that stands in its way. This moment, which the other art forms can only suggest or simulate, the camera catches naturally, taking up the torch which literature hands on. Stendhal is superior to Losey up to the point where in what he is describing the intention, the mental undercurrent, can pass to its incarnation in the material and objective world. It is precisely at this point that Losey becomes immeasurably superior to Stendhal.
Elevating the actor, mise en scène finds in violence a constant source of beauty. The hero breaks the spell, introducing into the malign order of the world his personal disorder, in his search for a harmony which is both more real and more elevated. What we are defining here is a particular kind of hero, and his name is Charlton Heston or Fernando Lamas, Robert Wagner or Jack Palance. A hero both cruel and noble, elegant and manly, a hero who reconciles strength with beauty (or, in Palance's case, a splendidly animal ugliness) and who represents the perfection of a lordly race, a hero made to conquer, made to portend or to experience the joys of the world. As an exercise in violence, conquest, pride, mise en scène in