Today is Orson Welles' birthday, if he were still alive today he would be 93 years old. It is in the spirit of the occasion that I announce my first blog project, My Year of Orson Welles. It is my hope that through this project I will come to a greater appreciation and understanding of the film legend that was Orson Welles. Once a month, until this time next year, I will post an entry into this project detailing some element of Welles' work and legacy. I don't intend to go about this in a chronological order, instead I will post my thoughts on the works as I encounter them.
I couldn't tell you when it was exactly that I became fascinated by Orson Welles. Though I do know that the infamy surrounding Citizen Kane and the legendary radio brodcast of The War of the Worlds was something I was aware of long before I ever encountered those works first hand. Certainly, my interest turned to a borderline obsession around four years ago when I saw Citizen Kane for the first time.
While Kane is certainly the crown jewel of Welles' filmography, I'll save that for a future entry in this project. For this entry, I'd like to talk about Welles' adaptation of Franz Kafka's The Trial.
Like Citizen Kane, this was one of the few films that Welles had complete control over. Welles' film career is repeatedly marked by studio interference and unauthorized alterations to his works. The Trial, would be one of the few occasions where Welles' was able to release a film as he intended it to be.
Filmed in 1962 in an out-of-service Parisian railway station, The Trial is a loose adaptation of Kafka's work. The most striking aspect of the film are the visuals. Welles' places Josef K (as played by a post-Psycho Anthony Perkins) in contrast with either enormous buildings and vast expanses or tight corridors and cluttered rooms. With one surreal set piece opening onto another.
The film, apparently shot haphazardly and on the cheap, is poorly dubbed. Welle's provides the voices for a number of the characters himself, some more obviously than others. Welles' himself has only a brief part in the film, playing the role of the Advocate. Shown mostly lying in an obscenely ornate bed, Welles' delivers many of his lines without any expression on his face. In his closeups, it appears as if only his mouth is moving, the rest of his facial features seemingly carved in stone.
While watching The Trial, it's hard not to put together a mental list of films that may have inspired this work and films that undoubtably took inspiration from it. One could reasonably assume that Welles' took some inspiration from early German surrealist film makers like Fritz Lang. Also, the early shots of Josef K's office are not unlike those of Jack Lemmon's office in Billy Wilder's 1960 film The Apartment.
Here is the intro to the film, narrated by Welles himself:
The Trial has fallen into public domain and is widely available on a variety of budget releases.
[Images taken from: wikipedia and www.paper-jam.co.uk/]