Monday, December 19, 2022

Orson Welles' The Trial

Kafka’s The Trial is notoriously conceived or misconceived as a critique of bureaucracy. Orson Welles' film version (1962), currently in revival at Film Forum, is like a haunting bad dream whose fragments one futilely attempts to remember, in the hope they will hold the key to one’s condition, as they dissolve out of reach forever. The film is filled with tunnels and staircases and perhaps, not surprisingly, there are parts which recall the famous sequence in  Carol Reed's The Third Man (1949) in which Harry Lime (played by Welles) escapes into the sewers of Vienna. In this version Welles, who sleeps most the day in a Rococo bed, is the advocate for Joseph K (Anthony Perkins) and a feckless character named Bloch (Akim Tamiroff). But from the start K’s world is a distortion. He inhabits a low ceiled room. His neighbor, Jeanne Moreau is a succubus, who has returned from a long night of reveling other men. K makes a Freudian slip calling his phonograph a "pornograph' and one of the cops who have come to arrest him employs the non-existent but suggestive word "ovular." One recurrent theme is that the accused are attractive to women who both care for and mother these shame-filled creatures. Romy Schneider plays a similar role, as does Elsa Martinelli. K’s office is a proliferation of desks, right out of Rene Clair’s A Nous La Liberte, inundated with nameless workers. There's talk of guilt and innocence and naturally K’s "case." However, it’s obvious that this world is a metaphor for the mind, with its endless files and super computer (how antedated this image is in the age of Moore’s law and increasingly tiny microprocessors) representing memory and it’s courtroom drama, conscience. But this is no normal court. Rather than just 12, it presents a seemingly endless proliferation of jurors who also turn into opera patrons. There's an artist on hand, named Tintoretti, whose studio is infested by giggling maggot-like little girls whose eyes appear through slats. So you have a libido and unconscious represented by sex, a superego constantly threatening punishment and a flagging ego forever trying to prevent itself from splitting into pieces. The advocate has agreed to see K because he's still in the hopeful stage and in one of the most powerful scenes K is pictured walking away from an imposing church after being interrogated by a priest. The movie begins with a narration of Kafka's famed "Before the Law" parable from The Trial, illustrated with pinscreen art by Alexandre Alexeleff and Claire Parker and ends almost tendentiously with an explosion as metaphor for extinction. Yet all the elements which might have seemed outdated including the black and white cinematography and the gargoyle-like figures out of 50s sci-fi, all fall into place, to render the verdict.

Read "Pornosophy: Full Stop At the Intersection of Sexuality and Ambition" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and watch the trailer of Erotomania

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