Tuesday, May 06, 2008

My Year of Orson Welles - The Beginning

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/]


John said...

In my whole life I've only ever had a couple of dreams in which I actually died, and one was heavily influenced by Kafka's The Trial. It might be the most depressing, alienating book ever written. That man had his finger on the fucked up pulse of the 20th century long before things got really out of hand.

Quammy said...

John, did you see the stage production of The Trial that was put on at UNB back in the day?

John said...

Nope. You?

Quammy said...

It might have been put on before you came to F'ton. I didn't care much for the acting but they had an amazing set. It was in the centre of the room and had all kinds of weird shit, like poles that actors climbed up. There was also a grate in the floor that actors could come up through. The night I saw the show the grate fell on one of the actors and split open his forehead. I felt bad for the guy, but he gave his character a really lame fakey accent, so I didn't feel too bad.

John said...

Bad acting in a college play? I hope you contacted the college actor's guild.

At least it didn't feature David Ingham making out with an air spirit with fetal alcohol syndrome.

Shauna said...

Bah! David Ingham making out with anything is disturbing. I too saw UNB's Stage Left version of The Trial, Quammy... but not the night you did (holy cool, blood on stage!). Fucking Page to the Stage. Cool use of ropes, though. To this day, when I google myself I find "Shauna Fuller's response to Betty's Summer Vacation." College acting indeed.