Joseph K (Anthony Perkins) wakes up as a police officer enters his bedroom. He is quickly joined by another and together they notify him that he is under arrest and will face trial. Joseph, claiming his innocence asks the officers to identify his crime and charges, but the officers stubbornly decline his request, stating they are not in the position to reveal such things. Baffled by the situation he finds himself in, Joseph goes off on a mission to find out the true nature of his trial.
First of foremost, this is Anthony Perkins’ film, plain and simple. And for someone who would have been in his twenties when he shot this, the way he manages to hold such a consistently absorbing performance with material of this weight is astounding. The film is a wonder, but a huge part of that is down to Perkins’ stunning portrayal of Joseph. His earnestness could win over any audience, but what makes him so unique is that although he’s in desperate need of answers, he is still afraid of confrontation. He’s left in a self-inflicting world of ambiguity. Joseph’s indecision and refusal to stand up and be a man could very well be the weakness that put him in this situation in the first place.
There are obvious connections that links the material to in the real world; for example, just by the title and the fact that it seems Joseph is getting put on trial for nothing in particular, you can draw a link to McCarthyism and the subjugation of individuals in a no win situation. But I think it’s a way more personal film than that general allegory allows. For me, it’s a guilt ridden masterpiece in which Kafka projects himself onto Joseph and makes him suffer for his inadequacies that, in the way, Kafka himself believes he should have suffered.
Of course, you have the idea of a corrupt judicial system within that, as well as that of a collapsing society. This is emphasised by the inclusion of the film’s nondescript setting and the broken down community where he lives – the streets and buildings nothing more than ghostly rubble. It’s a nightmarish reality of the world crashing down onto top of you leading to countless moments of disorientated terror.
This being a Welles movie, it’s essential to mention the style. The man was an artist, that much is unarguable, but the way he shoots this is just incredible. His ability to fill his frame with such images of horrifying beauty and find that very distinct angle or lighting choice is magnificent eye candy. The size, scale and splendour of the sets and locations in The Trial is amazing, but more impressive is that even within these grandiose and sprawling settings, he is able create a terrible feeling of imprisonment. But in the case of Joseph K, how does one escape the world?
Now onto the disc. Tthe new 1080p transfer is presented in a 1.64:1 aspect ratio (original 1.66:1) and for the most part, it looks good. The blacks are dark and whites are light, for a director like Welles – who uses shadow so predominantly in his work – it’s really important to get that right. My only issue with it being that it’s a tad uneven, some scenes are incredibly crisp and really pop off the screen where others are soft and the high definition picture loses its effectiveness. The sound on the hand is really solid, other than some syncing issues – which I’m pretty sure was just the case with the original print – it sounds great. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 having very little to no problems.
The special features make this a definite purchase though. It’s by no means stacked with stuff but it is definitely quality over quantity. You have two really enjoyable mini-documentaries titled Welles, Kafka and The Trial and Welles, Architect of Light, as well as a 13 minute interview with actor/playwright Stephen Berkoff about his own interpretation of Kafka’s story, as well as the film itself. All are really worth a watch – in-depth but still digestible. But the main addition for me is Tempo’s Profile on Orson Welles. This 30 minute archive interview with the director is stunning – insightful and funny, it’s a real look at the man behind the myth. And to finish off proceedings you have a trailer, a deleted scene and finally a nice supplement booklet.
Basically, even though the actual blu-ray won’t blow you away, The Trial is a brilliant piece of cinema made by a master of the art. And if that’s not enough of a reason for you to take the time to check out this disc, you need locking up.