Criterion Prediction #255: The Trial, by Alexander Miller
Title: The Trial
Director: Orson Welles
Cast: Anthony Perkins, Jeanne Moreau, Romy Schneider, Akim Tamiroff
Synopsis: A nebbishy and unassuming office worker (Perkins) is arrested for unknown reasons and stands trial utterly unaware of the circumstances.
Critique: Sometimes I get drunk and gaze off into my movie collection and I’ll take out the discs of one of my favorite directors, look at them, look at the artwork, read the essays, maybe watch a trailer or two and, more often than not, I’ll leave them in a neat pile near my bed and pass out. Among the greatest hits, Abel Ferrera, Olivier Assayas, Robert Bresson, and Sion Sono, but it happens most with Orson Welles. The enigmatic everythingness of his career, the various fibs and facts of his elusive life that was public and private; you can watch his movies and read all the books about him, but you’ll never be able to “figure him out.” And he was also something of a booze bag, so maybe that’s a guiding factor in my weird ritual.
But when I look at the spines of his movies–The Magnificent Ambersons, F for Fake, Chimes of Midnight, Citizen Kane, etc.–I’m always a bit miffed that I never see a copy of The Trial looking back at me between the other DVDs and Blu-rays. Often relegated to secondary status in the Welles canon (which is silly considering that ranking the maverick director’s work is pointless), The Trial is a startlingly realized splash of artistic bravura. Welles achieves this mad degree of imaginative rendition; the interiorized alienation in Kafka’s prose is in full visual propulsion and then shuffled into a suitably surreal labyrinthine narrative. The film is a rare case where the screen version captures every dimensional facet of the author’s work without the director losing themselves in the process.
Welles’ The Trial expertly parcels out expressionism and minimalism to dizzying effect. If walls, corridors, and doors aren’t jutting out blinding light rays of light, they have this air of dwarving immensity. Welles is channeling the greats like Sergei Eisinstein, Carol Reed and even himself. Is there any way you can watch the chase scenes here and not think of The Third Man? Welles’ The Trial is coyly subversive. The bureaucratic, political commentary is in full tilt and there’s a commanding hand leading the way. Still, the overall experience is intoxicating in its dreamy hysteria.
Why It Belongs in the Collection: As stated above, it’s frustrating that The Trial is faintly available in North America; that is, in any form worth paying for. Seeing as the Criterion Collection has the capital on Welles’ body of work, it’s not a long shot to anticipate the film’s inclusion. Some various imports are enough to pique the curiosity of completists (the Japanese Blu-ray looks exceptionally cool) but the price tag is hard to justify in these cases.
Seeing as it was one of the director’s many “Who knows?” titles in terms of distribution, Studio Canal has thankfully restored The Trial. Now that they and Criterion are back on track let’s hope we’ll see Welles’ presence in the Criterion Collection grow.