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Gurglings of a Putrid Stream

Thoughts on books and other assorted topics.

See also:  http://goppf.wikidot.com/swstart

My name:  Brian Martin

The Trial (1962), directed by Orson Welles

Orson Welles' The Trial -

In his adaptation, Orson Welles makes a perfectly reasonable decision regarding Franz Kafka's book The Trial, but in doing so he strips the book of its universality and produces a film with niche appeal. His decision? To play it as a dream.

It isn't a dream in the usual sense. We see no dreamer. The various sequences are basically faithful to those in the book (although Welles adds a computer and dynamite). But it's hermetically sealed: no sense of objective reality is allowed to creep in. K.'s nightmare is his own, and our role is merely to witness it, rather than share it.

The story is the same. (Welles rearranges the sequences, but as I mentioned in my review of the book, Kafka's arrangement is unknown, so no one can fault him for this.) Josef K. wakes up one morning to find himself under arrest for an unspecified crime and at the mercy of an incomprehensible legal system, one that seems determined to condemn him.

Anthony Perkins plays K., and he was exactly the right age (30), but, because he's Anthony Perkins, he appears a little young for the role, and he lacks the gavitas to completely pull off all the dialogue, a great deal of which Welles pulls straight from the book. He isn't bad, just a little light. Jeanne Moreau is good in the small role of Marika Burstner, K.'s neighbor and the object of his desire. She's a composite of two characters from the book, and the kiss they share early in the film isn't so bizarre because of it. The early scenes, in fact, are really the most interesting, when the focus is more on character than the weird world of Josef K.

That it's a weird world, Welles makes sure of. I suspect that the film's greatest admirers come from two main groups: those that enjoy strangeness for its own sake and those who not only love movies but like to see how they're made. It's easier to see what directors do, what cinematographers do, and what set designers do when these elements are such that they call attention to themselves. Welles uses deep focus and odd camera angles, vast sets and cramped sets, bright light and deep shadow to distinguish K.'s world from our own.

Technically, it's all quite impressive. But, for my money, it's also the problem. Like listening to someone else's dream, it's all sight and sound; the feeling is missing.