The Trial

The Trial

Blu-Ray Rating: *****

Reviewed by: Robert Munro

Read Chris's film review of The Trial

Considered by Welles himself to be his best film, The Trial is now released for the first time on Bluray, giving this visual masterpiece the restoration it deserves.

Quiet office clerk Josef K – played wonderfully by Anthony Perkins – is arrested on suspicion of... well that’s the thing: on suspicion of what? Nobody seems to know, yet Josef himself feels guilty, even though he is adamant he has committed no crime. There are stretches of wonderful dialogue during which Josef seems to argue his guilt even with himself. He tells of the time a teacher accosts their class, trying to find out the guilty party of a school-room prank. Josef knows it wasn’t him, but yet he can’t help but feel guilty by association.

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It seems clear that Kafka’s novel appealed to Welles precisely because of its dizzying paranoia. Josef is tormented by double-speaking bureaucrats, flirtatious women trying to seduce him and the gargantuan and all-powerful ‘Advocate’ played by Welles himself. Substitute the setting for Hollywood and the players for preening stars, number-crunching studio executives and all-too-powerful producers and you begin to get the idea. Welles always felt on trial in that world, hence the reason why he subsequently flitted across Europe trying to get funding for his projects.

What of this new release itself? Well, it comes with a slew of extras which will no doubt please Welles aficionados. More important than the extras, however, is the clarity of this restored release. The quality of this becomes apparent when watching the extras themselves and comparing them to the film. The image is, for the most part, sharp and well-defined, enhancing the black and white texture of the film’s design. The sound quality is also impressive. Often with a film of this age dialogue comes through a fuzzy, hissing and crackling audio fog, but that’s not apparent here.

Welles and Cinematographer Edmond Richard – as discussed in the extra ‘Welles, Architecture of Light’ – went to great efforts to achieve the striking look of the film. Deep ‘chiaroscuro’ shadows create a nightmarish contrast between light and dark areas of the screen, while bewildering camera angles and shot composition veer between the maddeningly crammed – such as the courtroom where Josef gives a speech against his oppressors – and sparse, almost, alien-like landscapes – as when Josef and a friend of his fellow lodger Marika Burstner (played with fizzing verve by Jeanne Moreau) heave a weighty trunk across a desolate vista... and then back again.

The aforementioned extra consists of Richard talking about the ways in which he and Welles created these images on their minuscule budget. Most revealingly is his discussion of the film’s opening scene, in which Josef is first placed under arrest. As one suspects from watching the film itself, the scene is shot in one take, rattling through over 300 metres of film. Richard and his camera followed Josef and his interrogators across the room, which several of them exit before entering again through other doors as the camera tracks the actors around in a dizzying swirl, giving us more than a hint of the spiralling descent into madness to come.

In ‘Welles, Kafka and the Trial’, a variety of people involved in the film discuss working with Welles and his relationship with the source material. It’s revealed that Welles wanted to harness Anthony Perkins’ repressed homosexuality to add an additional uncomfortable layer to the character. Josef is seduced by several women in the film and even chased up a rickety staircase by a horde of screaming girls. Perkins’ performance is extraordinary: he shifts between nervous confusion, awkward introspection and an almost arrogant assertiveness throughout, as his emotions and state-of-mind are manipulated by his tormentors (chief amongst which one suspects is Welles as director).

The choice of locations is also discussed in this feature. Much of the action takes place in the wonderful Gare du Nord in Paris, which had only recently ceased to exist as a functioning train station at the time of filming. Listening to Welles’ collaborators discuss the great man’s glee at being able to work in such a location brings to mind the proverbial image of a big kid with a huge train-set, almost literally.

‘Tempo Profile: Orson Welles’ is a recovered ABC interview with the man himself, which begins with the statement: “One Orson Welles is enough. Two would inevitably bring about the end of civilisation.” It’s late Welles: his bulbous frame, that smoking cigar and his rich, baritone voice as attention-commanding as ever. He’s full of witty asides (“I began as a star and have been working my way down ever since”) and intriguing anecdotes, even if you wonder how much truth is in them. As the saying goes, you’d watch Welles read the phone book and wait for him to finish so he could start all over again.

‘An Interview with Steven Berkoff’, constitutes the English playwright and actor’s interpretations of Kafka, his novel and the film. As someone who has adapted Kafka previously for the stage, Berkoff’s insights are interesting and thoughtful. He discusses Kafka’s personal life, his insecurities and torment at great length, which helps to contextualise both novel and film. He also discusses Kafka’s guilt over the fact he wasn’t a ‘normal’ Jewish man, in that he wasn’t a self-sufficient man with a wife and family. His feelings of inadequacy and societal persecution are what give rise to his great book.

A deleted scene and a trailer round out the extras, while there is an accompanying booklet written by film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum. Rosenbaum fleshes out aspects of Welles’ personal life, giving us even more evidence from which we can deduce that this is Orson Welles’ most personal film, and the one that he was most proud of. Rosenbaum discusses – and quotes Welles himself on the subject – the guilt which the director had felt throughout his life. Rosenbaum even traces this to the death of Welles’ alcoholic father. Welles had agreed to refuse to see his father until he sobered up - which his father never did. Therefore Welles carried with him a feeling of guilt that he hadn’t done more to connect with his father before his death, and that guilt finds its voice most articulately in The Trial.

An excellent release from Studio Canal, which does as much as it can to give the film, and Welles, the credit it deserves.

Reviewed on: 07 Sep 2012
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The Trial packshot
A man wakes up to discover the police want to talk to him, but he has no idea what he's supposed to have done.
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Product Code: B0085MXPLG

Region: B

Ratio: 1.66:1

Sound: English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0

Extras: Welles, Kafka and the Trial; Welles, Architecture of Light; Tempo Profile: Orson Welles; Interview with Steven Berkoff; Booklet on the movie written by Jonathan Rosenbaum; Deleted Scene & Trailer.

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