June 8th, 2004

Welles's The Trial

I have a passion for Orson Welles. I even own the almost unwatchable Jess Franco cut of Don Quixote.

But I'm a heretic. Kane and Ambersons are the films I like least.

Every one of Welles's films is a quest. What are we looking for? Well, the quarry varies- it could be a man or an abstract truth or even a McGuffin- but whatever it is, we never catch it. We wind up with Rosebud or Arkadin's empty plane or the never-ending war (and absence of Falstaff) that comes with Hal's hollow crown.

The key work is The Trial. A man weaves his way, helter-skelter, though a spectacular labyrinth looking for justice, meaning, himself. It's like the fun-house sequence in Lady from Shanghai stretched out to fill a whole movie. The studio butchered the fun-house sequence. This is where Welles got his revenge.

Welles' Trial is not Kafka's. Kafka is depressive and depressing. Welles is a tragedian but he loves life. If he has a message for us, it's this: don't worry about the destination, just enjoy the passing scenery. K's journey is towards madness and death, but, gee, ain't the Gare d'Orsay wonderful!

Does K die? Kafka's character does- notoriously, "like a dog"- after refusing the option of (assisted) suicide. But Welles's K is left with the choice. The executioners throw him a bomb and he can either hold onto it or chuck it. The camera cuts away- pause- and there's an explosion- and I guess it's up to us to fill in the gap.