One of the major revelations- and best films- I’ve seen in 2018. I have seen it before, twice I think, but always on really inferior copies (this is not much better), over a decade ago, without the eye I have now for visuals and this is something to behold. I’ll get to it more below but this film requires patience with that first 25 minutes
The 7th ranked Welles film on TSPDT
The former wunderkind, boy genius not auteur martyr takes a Kafka adaptation, blows it up with unbelievable visuals and set pieces—but there’s a dual meaning there with a second reading of Welles trapped and the victim of Hollywood
Bleak, baroque, a labyrinthine
Welles as said it’s “the finest film I have ever made”
Dark lighting from noir
Surrealism into a nihilistic dystopia— made with such bravado—fragmented, ambiguous, claustrophobic
Extreme camera angles and shadow work
There are many readings— Anthony Perkins as a homosexual. Hollywood… Nazis
Uninspired cartoon prologue and then
Welles as an intellectual- always an adaptation of weighty material if not his own- The Shakespeare work then Kafta
Flaws- the dubbing/synching is a disaster
We’re 26 minutes in before the first interesting shot. We’re trapped in that ugly room- this is a flaw.
Then were off- we’re in that massive office built like a maze, it’s a stunner of desks and lighting- ceiling as mise-en-scene given Welles angle work and eye for massive set pieces. As Perkins character falls more and more out of reality and into that surrealistic world we’re off from artistic standpoint
Underneath the bleachers like a spider web—sea of chairs
Architecture as character at it’s finest—apartment exteriors
A sea of extras as architecture
Clearly an influence on Soderbergh, Pakula, Fincher with their office work- even today in homecoming from Sam Esmail–
The house of Welles character is gorgeous—a sea of books with the girl
Set piece after set piece of a mise-en-scene designed to perfection- not just perfection but ambition and formal consistency that is married to narrative
The lighting in the underground tunnel
Sea of newspapers
Steps and skyscrapers—exhibition shots with framing
Poor acting in this film from many people—Welles included- his scene drags a little- there aren’t many down sections after that weak opening
A masterpiece of mise-en-scene and set piece work
Influence’s Blade Runner, Brazil– clearly some borrowed from Metropolis
Some of the visuals are among the greatest of the decade, Welles’ career- the attic with light coming in and picture frames all over, the hall of cabinets going on forever
It’s a very tough film to evaluate- there are things it does better than most masterpieces yet also things about it (some of the acting for example) that 20 films from 1962 do better
I am happy to see this movie in the top one hundred, although I admit I am somewhat surprised about the content of you review here. I saw the film today.
The audio mixing didn’t seem especially negatively noteworthy to me. I personally found the beginning (the apartment; I will mention the cartoon in a minute) to be one of the LEAST slow sections of the narrative, with long takes endlessly reminiscent of Rope or The Earrings of Madame De…, and an energetic introduction into the mindset of Josef. Perhaps the lighting is not comparable to the rest, but the camera movement and composition is great. Your comment about bad acting is perhaps the most shocking of them all. Anthony Perkins is a great actor, perhaps more so in Psycho than here, but he is the perfect choice for the character, able to portray the nervous energy of a confused accused man. On the Roger Ebert website, you can see that the general consensus about his performance is positive in his review and the comments. Welles in his acting role reminds me of PS Hoffman in The Master. His croaky voice and quiet contempt fit with the character. I suppose the drawn prologue is purposefully uninspired, but I find it successfully metaphorical, and I think referring back to it later is a great element of cinematic form.
I hope it doesn’t sound like I think the review is bad. Your analysis of all the set pieces is great and you choose perfect shots to highlight. Wow, what a great film. The structure and pacing couldn’t possibly be at the level of Citizen Kane, but the editing and so many scenes are great. There are so many standout shots and so many meanings that it feels like every sequence is a total departure from the last thematically, but somehow it all comes together. There are few films that can be interpreted this many ways and still not seem like a stretch; Persona is the only major one that can beat it which comes to mind.
Damn, i have to rush this movie, i’ve been saying that i will see it for more than six months, and i always miss it, I’m determined to see it this week, time to stop putting it off.
Thanks @Graham for the comment and thanks Drake for the review, I will comment in a few days
@Graham — just reading this comment now- sorry I missed this. I’m glad we arrive at the same conclusion of the film even if you disagree with pretty much everything I observed. The opening is very quiet cinematically and yes- Welles is known for his dubbing issues as his career went along and this is no exception. And I’m sorry- I’m not sure I can agree that Perkins is a great actor
This is one of the movies i have been waiting to see the longest, probably since i got to know your site, the images in the review made me want to see it.
I finally got to see it, so awesome and dystopian.
There is an image of the tunnel with shadows worthy of the third man.
I disagree that it is very faulty, as you said in a comment, “I’m not going to spend time going through the greatest films looking for flaws (that sounds awful and I’m not sure what it tells us)”
Architecture as a character reminded me of Red Desert, The searchers, The Parallax view, L’Avventura.
I don’t really usually say this anymore, but thanks for the recommendation, a hidden gem.
@Aldo- very happy to hear it. The film is cinematically quiet for the first 20-25 minutes. Glad we’re on the same page overall here.
Recently completed my 2nd viewing in my life and 1st in almost 10 years and it was spectacular in its set pieces. Aside from the set pieces the biggest strength might be its ability to establish a particular mood, this this case the sense of paranoia the protagonist must have been feeling.
I was curious what this might have looked like if Hitchcock directed. Obviously there’s Anthony Perkins but also the premise is very Hitchcock like.
@James Trapp- I like that idea- it holds many similarities with Hitchcock’s man on the run series of films from The 39 Steps to North By Northwest…. I’m not sure Hitchcock always had the grand vision Welles has here– but I think Hitch soothes out some of the rough edges and small details.
@Drake – I think another director who would make for an interesting choice would be Akira Kurosawa. And for the Perkins role I think Takashi Shimura would be perfect. His range and ability to play a meek character, similar to the character he played in Ikiru, would make him an ideal candidate. And speaking of Ikiru there are actually some similarities in regards to its critique of the short comings of bureaucracies. Just remembering those scenes with stacks of paper on the desk and all the mindless and nonsensical tasks required for even the simplest of requests. And of course Kurosawa is one of the few directors in history who can match Welles behind the camera.
[…] The Trial – Welles […]
Does anyone know where I can find a quality version of The Trial. I’ve seen it twice but both times the quality was not great, I still thought very highly of it as I have posted about previously. Given that the set designs and mise-en-scenes are its biggest strengths this film could definitely use a UHD 4K restoration
@James Trapp- Turner Classic Music run it often and that is where I see it. Still not a 4K restoration but way better than the old VHS days when you worried about the correct aspect ratio, etc.
@Drake – Thanks, I will keep that in mind, a few months ago I was looking for a 4K Version of Raging Bull but it did not seem to exist. Like 3 or 4 days later I saw that Criterion had announced their upcoming restorations, low and behold one of the upcoming films was…Raging Bull!
Caught this one last night, mind-blowing stuff. I actually think I might’ve liked it a little bit more than Ambersons. Like you said, it really is just one magnificent set piece after another. The fact that Welles practically has 4 films in the top 70 (!) is amazing. And just a question @Drake, if you ever came around on the opening 20-25 minutes, as in you thought they were as good as the rest of the film, how much higher would this film be on the top 500?
@Chase- “came around on the opening 20-25 minutes” is a polite way of saying it. haha. Feels like it is at least a top 50 film if Welles doesn’t start the film out by lulling us to sleep.