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Mr. Arkadin

The Trial

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We have a thread on Orson Welles, but not one dedicated to this masterpiece, the film that Welles himself regarded as his best work. And, indeed, it may be. Consensus is that CITIZEN KANE is Welles' strongest picture followed by a lot of interesting but not quite successful stuff that followed, but me? Give me TOUCH OF EVIL, THE TRIAL, CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT, and F FOR FAKE, all of which I find to be more compelling masterpieces than the alleged Greatest Film Ever MadeTM. As far as I'm concerned, Welles never ceased to be a great filmmaker.

That many of Welles' films are out of print in the United States has no doubt contributed to his obscurity. You can't even get THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS, for cryin' out loud, and his European fare, THE TRIAL and CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT have, to date, not received the full, restored treatment. (Of the DVD versions of THE TRIAL, I strongly recommend the Milestone DVD edition, which has better picture quality and sound than the rest, and was actually transferred from a film negative; alas, there is no very good version of CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT.)

THE TRIAL, based on (or, to use Welles' words, "inspired by") Kafka's masterpiece, is one of the finest cinematic nightmares, a study in guilt and innocence, the individual and society, and, of course, the place of law. Welles was often fascinated by corruption, and here is the legal system at its most chaotic. Welles purposefully designs the film to be disorienting; dialogue flows so quickly, and is so peppered with banalities, it is, at times, hard to keep up, and we shuffle from one location to the next with little respite, following our protagonist Joseph K (played by an alternately nervous and smug Anthony Perkins). The film arguably features the finest cinematography of any Welles' film, bringing a malevolent grandeur to the bizarre proceedings.

Oh, and looking at Welles interviews, I found this quote, which made me chuckle:

WHELDON: Is it significant that films such as THE TRIAL can now be produced on large budgets, for commercial cinema audiences?

WELLES: Oh it's wonderful, and it's very hopeful. I mean there are all sorts of difficult subjects being made into mainstream pictures nowadays and they are doing well. People are going to see them. HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR and LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD. I mean, I don't like them, but I'm so glad that they were made. It doesn't matter that I don't like them. Resnais would probably hate THE TRIAL, but what matters is that a difficult and on the face of it, an experimental, film got made, and is being shown and is competing commercially! In other words what is dying is the purely commercial film, at least that is the great hope!

Edited by Ryan H.

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Oh, do I ever want to see this film! I love Welles and Kafka's novel is one of the most nightmarish I've ever read. Of the four films you mention, I've only seen TOUCH OF EVIL and F FOR FAKE. My recent Halloween viewing of PSYCHO reminded me of how effective Anthony Perkins can be (off topic, but does Andrew Garfield remind anyone else of a young Perkins?). This is moving up my list of "must sees" for voting.

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A couple years ago, I watched every Welles film I could get my hands on, and The Trial was the great discovery of that exercise. Suddenly Gilliam's Brazil doesn't seem nearly so inventive or groundbreaking.

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You can stream The Trial from Netflix. F for Fake, too.

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You can stream The Trial from Netflix.

Alas, though, not in the best quality; the difference between the Netflix Instant version and the Milestone DVD is night and day. The careful, contrast-heavy lighting of THE TRIAL is not as obviously remarkable in the Netflix Instant version, which is hazy and washed-out. But at least THE TRIAL is available, which, even in that less than preferable form, is better than it not being available at all.

F for Fake, too.

This one, though, is pretty decent, since the Netflix Instant version is taken from the wonderful Criterion release.

Edited by Ryan H.

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You can stream The Trial from Netflix. F for Fake, too.

Not in Canada.

But I just checked, and my fantastic local video store - Gen X in Waterloo, ON - has it.

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The Trial is my favorite of the Welles' films I've seen. (Just saw F is for Fake last night, finally.) I've admired, but never really enjoyed, Citizen Kane. But The Trial is a fantastic nightmare of a movie.

Edited by Overstreet

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I must admit I've always enjoyed CITIZEN KANE. I find it terrifically entertaining. But I don't think it's as though Welles shot his wad with that film, as though it represents his richest work. His career is full of genuinely impressive filmmaking, and he continued to challenge and push himself as the years go on (has any director so radically changed direction in his later years as Welles did with the experimental F FOR FAKE?). And, like Jeffrey, THE TRIAL is right up there at the top of my list, a tremendous showcase for Welles' talent.

If you like THE TRIAL, you may also want to look at THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI. It's not as accomplished as THE TRIAL, but it foreshadows that film's surreal style and has its share of great moments.

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I must admit I've always enjoyed CITIZEN KANE. I find it terrifically entertaining. But I don't think it's as though Welles shot his wad with that film, as though it represents his richest work. His career is full of genuinely impressive filmmaking, and he continued to challenge and push himself as the years go on (has any director so radically changed direction in his later years as Welles did with the experimental F FOR FAKE?). And, like Jeffrey, THE TRIAL is right up there at the top of my list, a tremendous showcase for Welles' talent.

If you like THE TRIAL, you may also want to look at THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI. It's not as accomplished as THE TRIAL, but it foreshadows that film's surreal style and has its share of great moments.

Oh, I definitely enjoy and love CITIZEN KANE. I find it much more than a technical exercise, full of wit and thematic depth. I did see THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI a number of years ago, and found it very good. THE TRIAL is one of the few Welles films that I haven't seen actually.

I suppose my love for KANE is evident.

Edited by Anders

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You've also said you haven't seen CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT. If you can--and the film is notoriously hard to get hold of--you should definitely check it out. Probably the best cinematic Shakespeare adaptation ever made.

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You've also said you haven't seen CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT. If you can--and the film is notoriously hard to get hold of--you should definitely check it out. Probably the best cinematic Shakespeare adaptation ever made.

I will try to do so. Thanks.

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Finally saw THE TRIAL. All the comments above are very representative of the film I saw. While it may not replace KANE for me, it is still a fantastic treatment of one of my favourite novels.

(I've since seen CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT and MR. ARKADIN as well).

A couple years ago, I watched every Welles film I could get my hands on, and The Trial was the great discovery of that exercise. Suddenly Gilliam's Brazil doesn't seem nearly so inventive or groundbreaking.

YES! And this is coming from someone who loves Gilliam's BRAZIL.

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Finally saw THE TRIAL. All the comments above are very representative of the film I saw.

Hooray! ::thumbsupup::

(I've since seen CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT and MR. ARKADIN as well).

I've heard what you thought of MR. ARKADIN, but what did you make of CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT?

Edited by Ryan H.

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(I've since seen CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT and MR. ARKADIN as well).

I've heard what you thought of MR. ARKADIN, but what did you make of CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT?

The DVD of CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT was pretty poor quality, but it's all that we've got available at the moment. I liked it quite a bit, though probably not as much as ARKADIN (which is a hell of a lot of fun) or THE TRIAL. The Battle of Shrewsbury sequence is justifiably lauded, and lays the ground for how we think about cinematic battles. Welles' Falstaff is a great performance, and like THE TRIAL, he makes great use of setting and camera angle. Still, I only half-jokingly described the film to someone as a stunning battle sequence surrounded by two hours of Shakespearean fat jokes.

Prior to this year's viewing of CHIMES, ARKADIN, and THE TRIAL I had seen KANE, AMBERSONS, THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI, OTHELLO, TOUCH OF EVIL, and F FOR FAKE. What a run. I'm convinced he is one of the twentieth century's greatest artists.

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