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The Trial (also known as Le Procès) is a 1962 film directed by Orson Welles, who also wrote the screenplay based on the novel by Franz Kafka. Welles stated in an interview with the BBC that "The Trial is the best film I have ever made."

Details

Josef K. (Anthony Perkins) is awakened in his apartment one morning by two police officers who inform him that he is under open arrest. The officers decline to identify the crime that Josef K. is being charged with, nor do they take him into custody. When the officers leave, Josef K. converses with his landlady, Mrs. Grubach (Madeline Robinson), and his neighbor, Miss Burstner (Jeanne Moreau), about what transpired. He later goes to his office, where he is reprimanded by his superior for allegedly having improper relations with his female teenage cousin. That evening, Josef K. goes to the opera, but is taken from the theater by a police inspector (Arnoldo Foà) and is brought to a courtroom, where his attempts to confront the peculiar nature of his case are in vain. He later returns to his office and discovers the two police officers who first visited him are being whipped in a small room. Josef K.’s uncle Max recommends that he consult with Hastler (Orson Welles), a law advocate. After brief encounters with the wife of a courtroom guard (Elsa Martinelli) and a room full of condemned men waiting for trial, Josef K. has an interview with Hastler, which proves unsatisfactory. Hastler’s mistress (Romy Schneider) suggests that Josef K. seek out the advice of the artist Titorelli (William Chappell), but this is also not helpful. Seeking refuge in a cathedral, Josef K. learns from a priest (Michael Lonsdale) that he has been condemned to death. Hastler abruptly appears at the cathedral to confirm the priest’s information. On the evening before his thirty-first birthday, Josef K. is apprehended by two executioners and is brought to a quarry, where he is forced to remove some of his clothing. The executioners give the condemned man a knife, but he refuses to commit suicide. The executioners leave Josef K. in a quarry pit and throw dynamite at him. Josef K. laughs at his executioners and throws an object back at them. Then there is an explosion and the smoke from the dynamite billows into the air.

Production

In 1960, Welles was approached by producer Alexander Salkind to make a film from a public domain literary choice. Salkind promised that Welles would have total artistic freedom and he would not interfere with Welles’ creation. Welles and Salkind agreed to create a film based on the Franz Kafka novel The Trial, only to discover later the text was not in the public domain and that they needed to the rights to the property.

Salkind committed 650 million French francs (U.S.$1.3 million in 1962 currency) to the budget for The Trial and secured backing from German, French and Italian investors.

Welles took six months to write the screenplay. In adapting the work, he rearranged the order of Kafka’s chapters. In this version, the chapter line-up read 1, 4, 2, 5, 6, 3, 8, 7, 9, 10. However, the order of Kafka's chapters was arranged by his literary executor, Max Brod after the writer's death, and this order is not definitive. Welles also modernized several aspects of the story, introducing computer technology and changing Miss Burstner’s profession from a typist to a cabaret performer. Welles also opened the film with a fable from the book about a man who is permanently detained from seeking access to the Law by a guard. To illustrate this allegory, he used the pin screen animation of Alexandre Alexeieff, who created animated prints using thousands of pins.

Welles also changed the manner of Josef K.'s death. Kafka originally had the executioners pass the knife over the head of Josef K., thus giving him the opportunity to take the weapon and kill himself, in a more dignified manner - Josef K. does not, instead he is fatally stabbed by his executioners in the heart, and as he dies Josef K. says "like a dog." In the film, whilst the executioners still offer him the knife, Josef K. refuses to take it, and goads the executioners by yelling "You'll have to do it!" The film ends with the smoke of the fatal dynamite blast forming a mushroom cloud in the air while Welles reads the closing credits on the soundtrack.

Welles initially hoped to cast U.S. comic actor Jackie Gleason as Hastler, but he took the role himself when Gleason rejected the part. Welles also dubbed the dialogue for 11 actors in The Trial. Welles reportedly dubbed a few lines of Anthony Perkins’ dialogue and challenged Perkins to identify the dubbing. Perkins was unable to locate the lines where Welles dubbed his voice.

Welles began the production in Yugoslavia. To create Josef K.’s workplace, he created a set in an exposition hall just outside Zagrebmarker, Croatiamarker, where 850 secretaries banged typewriters at 850 office desks. Other sequences were later shot in Dubrovnikmarker, Romemarker, Milanmarker and Parismarker. Welles was not able to film The Trial in Kafka’s home city of Praguemarker, as his work was banned by the Communist government in Czechoslovakiamarker.

In Paris, Welles had planned to shoot the interiors of his film at the Bois de Boulogne studios, but Salkind had difficulties collecting promised capital to finance the film. Instead, he used the Gare d'Orsaymarker, an abandoned Parisian railway station. Welles rearranged his set design to accommodate this new setting, and he later defended his decision to film at Gare d'Orsay in an interview with Cahiers du Cinema, where he stated: “Everything was improvised at the last moment, because the whole physical concept of my film was quite different. It was based on the absence of sets. And the gigantic nature of the sets, which people have objected to, is partly due to the fact that the only setting I had was that old abandoned station.”

While editing The Trial, Welles simultaneously shot the prologue and epilogue for his unfinished, self-financed film adaptation of Don Quixote.

In a later interview with Peter Bogdanovich, Anthony Perkins stated that Welles gave him the direction that The Trial was meant to be seen as a black comedy. Perkins would also state his greatest professional pride came in being the star of a Welles-directed feature.

While filming in Zagreb, Welles met Croatian actress Olga Palinkas. He renamed her Oja Kodar and she became Welles' companion and occasional artistic collaborator during the latter years of his career.

Release

Welles initially planned to premiere The Trial at the Venice Film Festival in September 1962, but the film was not completed in time. The festival organizers showed the Academy Award winning musical West Side Story instead.

Welles continued to edit the film up until its December 1962 premiere in Paris. In an interview with the BBC, he mentioned that on the eve of the premiere he jettisoned a ten-minute sequence where Josef K. meets with a computer scientist (played by Greek actress Katina Paxinou) who uses her technology to predict his fate. Welles explained the last-minute cut by noting: “I only saw the film as a whole once. We were still in the process of doing the mixing, and then the premiere fell on us... It should have been the best in the film and it wasn't. Something went wrong, I don't know why, but it didn't succeed.”

The Trial opened theatrically in the U.S. in 1963. Over the years, the film has polarized critics and Welles’ scholars and biographers. For example, Charles Higham’s 1970 biography on Welles dismissed the film as "an agonizing experience ... a dead thing, like some tablet found among the dust of forgotten men." But in his 1996 biography on Welles, David Thompson said the film was "an astonishing work, and a revelation of the man ... a stunning film."

Post-release history

In 1981, Welles planned to create a documentary on the making of The Trial. Cinematographer Gary Graver was hired to film Welles addressing a University of Southern Californiamarker audience on the film’s history. The footage was shot with a 16mm camera on color reversal stock, but Welles never completed the proposed documentary. The film is now in the possession of Germanymarker’s Filmmuseum Munich.

No copyright was ever filed on The Trial, which resulted in the film being a public domain title. For many years, it has been available in bootlegged dupes of inferior quality. In 2000, a restored version based on the long-lost original 35mm negative was released on DVD by Milestone Film & Video.

See also



References

  1. http://www.wellesnet.com/trial%20bbc%20interview.htm
  2. Cowie, Peter. “The Cinema of Orson Welles.” 1973, A.S. Barnes & Co.
  3. “The Bootleg Files: The Trial,” Film Threat, July 27, 2007
  4. Brady, Frank. “Citizen Welles.” 1989, Charles Scribner’s Sons, ISBN 0684189828
  5. Bogdanovich, Peter. “Who the Hell’s In It?” 2004, Alfred A.Knopf, ISBN 03754000109
  6. Transcript of 1962 BBC interview with Orson Welles on the making of “The Trial”
  7. “Prodigal Revived,” Time Magazine, June 29, 1962
  8. “Orson Welles Film Dropped at Venice,” New York Times, September 7, 1962 (fee access required)
  9. “Orson Welles' 'The Trial' flawed yet unforgettable,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 12, 2000
  10. “Orson Welles: An Incomplete Education,” Senses of Cinema


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