From Films and Filming, Oct. 1962:
"The Trial of Orson Welles"
by Enrique Martinez
In an old and disused railway station close to the Place de la Concorde and its obelisk, on the banks of the Seine, Orson Welles was shooting his tenth film, The Trial, based on Kafka's remarkable book.
On hearing that Welles was in Paris my first reaction was to try to interview him at length on his work as a director and actor, and to get him to discuss his conception of production, the philosophy behind his films, the special super-human quality of his characters and his future plans and projects. At once I began to make enquiries and alerted my acquaintances in an endeavor to gain enough influence so that the great Welles would condescend to receive me. It was all in vain. Apart from a tiny privileged few, nobody was able to speak to him or to ask him any questions. To try to photograph him or make a report for television was out of the question. Orson Welles didn't want to know anything about anybody outside his work. However, as I am a little stubborn and it was well worth the trouble, I persevered until I managed to get permission to follow the shooting of The Trial only a few feet away from Welles.
So, for a fortnight, I followed step by step the work of one of the most important directors in the history of the cinema and one of the most accursed as far as producers are concerned. Before going on to describe what I saw at his side it is, I think, worth going to into some detail over events in The Trial, which, more than a novel, could be labeled a prophetic meditation.
It is five o'clock in the morning. Joseph K is awakened by a man who has entered his bedroom whilst he has been asleep and who announces that from this moment on he is under arrest.
This is the first scene in the film. The whole of the rest of the film is no more than a description of Joseph K's vain attempt to discover what he is accused of and who accuses him.
For K himself is a young man with no history. Thirty and handsome (Orson Welles has chosen Tony Perkins to play the part) he occupies an important post in a large organization. Women admire him and the future seems bright. He lives an irreproachably moral life in a boarding house.
It is to this boarding house, run by Madame Grumbach (Madeleine Robinson) that the official (Arnoldo Foa) comes at dawn to arrest Joseph K, followed by two inspectors of frightening appearance (Jess Hahn and Billy Kearns) who tell him that his arrest is purely formal and that whilst his trial is being arranged he will be free to live just as he has done up to the present. The only demand that they make is that he should follow the incidents of his trial and be at all times available should he be needed by Justice.
From this moment onwards the life of the accused K takes on a Dante-esque dimension of perpetual nightmare.
When a young girl, Mademoiselle Burstner (Jeanne Moreau), who lives in the room next to his, returns on the morning of his arrest from the cabaret where she works, K is waiting for her. Although they only know each other by sight, she treats him as a good friend and the beginnings of a romance are evident. But the moment K tells her how he has come to be arrested, the girl becomes enraged and violently throws him out of her room.
A few days later K notices that Mademoiselle Burstner has left the boarding house without telling him. In the street he meets Madmoiselle Pittl (Suzanne Flon), a friend of Mademoiselle Burstner, who begins to scream at him, "It is your fault! All your fault". Joseph K does not understand. To escape from the anguish of being accused without having committed a crime, K tries to go on living in the same way that he used to before the accusation was made.
One night he even goes to the Opera, and it is here that the trial begins to take shape. During the performance an usherette delivers an envelope. A man is waiting for him. It is the inspector, who takes him to the office of the Judge of Inspection. In spite of the lateness of the hour, the judge wished to see him immediately.
They go through an immense entrance into an enormous building that is built in an architectural style too overloaded to be a station and too old and dirty to be a palace. Passages lead off that never finish. K has just entered the kingdom of the Law. On all sides there are old, miserable, dirty and badly dressed men who are at once resigned and terrified and who appear to wander without direction or aim. Finally K arrives in the presnce of the judge.
After a long interview, K comes out of the office as ignorant of his crime as he was when he entered, but with a greater anxiety about how long his freedom will last.
In the midst of the suffocating atmosphere of the place, K's eyes alight on a beautiful woman (Elsa Martinelli), who approaches him and offers her help until a big and strong young man (Heltzmann) takes her by the belt and pulls her away. She makes no protest. She even begins to laugh.
The following morning, lost in the immense room of his ultra modern office K receives a visit from his uncle Max who, strangely, is well aware of his arrest and who has come up from the country to help him. Max advises his nephew to consult a famous lawyer friend of his (Orson Welles).
The old lawyer is ill in bed but maintains amorous relations with his young nurse, Leni (Romy Schneider). As soon as she sees K, Leni takes him mysteriously into an adjoining room…On returning to the lawyer's room, K is told that the lawyer has heard a great deal of talk about his trial and that in his opinion things do not look very favorable. This conversation only increases K's anxiety. His lack of comprehension of the new world he finds himself involved in is now total and complete.
Caught up in the net of the accusation, K finds himself changing from an accused man to a guilty one. His anguish grows. 'What am I accused of?' He becomes obsessed by this question to which there is no reply. Soon a new question poses itself. 'For what am I to be condemned?' For he is quite certain that soon they are going to condemn him. He knows it. And he knows that he will struggle in vain. Nevertheless he continues to pay frequent visits to the lawyer (we do not know whether this is on account of the lawyer or Leni). Following Leni's advice he visits a painter, Titorelli, who is on good terms with the judges, whose portraits he has painted. These final attempts to enlist Titorelli's help are desperate. K knows it, and after each try he finds himself more dejected than ever. Now together with the feelings of anguish is a loathing of the corrupt, pitiless and mad Justice he has encountered.
A well-intentioned priest, who as chaplain of the prisoners, forms part of the horrible judicial machine, is the last person to whom the accused and condemned Joseph K asks for help. The inability of the priest to help confirms him in his despair. And K at last gives up the struggle.
At daybreak on the following morning two inspectors call for him. K follows without the least resistance. They take him to court. On the way he thinks he can make out the figure of Mademoiselle Burstner. The two inspectors take him to a quarry, and force him to throw himself down on the stone. In the distance he vaguely perceives a human form. 'Someone has come to save me?' The inspector has already nailed a dagger in the centre of his heart.
'Like a dog!'
These are the last words of Joseph K who dies murmuring 'What crime?'
Orson Welles, as can be seen from this summary of the film's plot, has stuck faithfully to Kafka's book. What slight modification there is has made through Welles' desire to make the work more easily understandable. Kafka created a work shot through with anguish. Welles' The Trial is submerged in anguish. In order to achieve this effect he has gone back to the style of Citizen Kane with its big crane movements, its camera at floor level and its monumental tracking. What we see is the whole Welles box of tricks from his early style, governed by the twenty years of reflection that separate the two films. In The Trial shots are longer. Some go on for six minutes although the total number in the script goes beyond 700.
By means of the movement and the alternation between long shots and short (sometimes as abrupt as lightning) Welles makes tangible the advancing doubt, the paralysing dread, the penetrating worry, the peace that disappears and the solitude that sets in.
With lighting the image acquires a new dimension: anguish. Welles makes use of a new American emulsion which is extremely sensitive. And, contrary to what one might expect, he lights the set with voltaic arcs of enormous power. Five kilowatt projectors are used for simple effects and particular details. The arc lamps with their white light cut the volume down to size. The result is a contrasted image with enormous masses of black shadow which spreads around the light, little by little invading it, surrounding it and destroying it.
The sets, together with the light, are the essence of the film itself. There are two principal sets which provide plastic symbols of our modern world. The office where Joseph K works is the first. It is an immense and very modern hangar containing more than 700 tables on each of which is placed a modern calculating machine. Movement, noise and atmosphere render this office a hell of precision. The machines are more perfect than man himself. Man has become an insignificant slave.
The second set is the palace where the Law reigns. The old d'Orsay station, fallen into decay with the passing of time, with its enormous and dirty vault, its modern-style lamps, its twisted staircases, and its vastness truly represents the all-powerful endemic laws which sow the seeds of terror and death amongst the men who live within its shade without knowing the sun-light and infinite horizons which extend beyond the enomrous and filthy walls which surround them. All this of course is part of Welles' special baroque manner in which symbolism abounds without, however, at any point touching on that of Fellini, for example. Everything is twisted, exuberant, cosmic - the enomrous bed of the lawyer with its dragons and tapestry, the mirrors, the archives, the office files, the lamp shades that drop dust.
And what about Orson Welles, the director? The impression that he makes in person correspsonds exactly to the legend that has grown up around him. Big, strong and stout, deep voiced and with his enormous cigar, walking along in the midst of technicians, cables and half-assembled sets, he gives the impression of a lion shut in behind the bars of his cage.
He makes the actors rehearse a good deal. He takes them into a corner away from everyone else for an hour. Orson talks to them, repeats him aims, tells them what he expects of them even down to the tone of voice. It is not a question of seeing whether the actors have learnt the script by heart. It is a question of introducing them to the atmosphere of the scene, the character of the role and its reality. Sometimes an hour is not long enough and Welles rehearses for four, six or even ten hours. (I do not know whether it is usual with him but while I was there shooting was held up for two days because Welles was rehearsing with Romy Schneider and Tony Perkins for a whole day, from noon till seven in the evening.) The actor plays a very important part in Welles' system of direction and on this account the attention that he dedicates to his players is very great.
Once he is satisfied with an actor's work, Welles goes on to rehearse the camera movements and speed. Examining the set up he modifies what has been planned, changing the direction and intensity of the lights. Once all this has been arranged to his satisfaction, he rehearses two or three times the placing of the actors and then rapidly prepares to shoot. His voice can be heard for miles around. 'Motor-action' (the word action is pronounced in a very special way-half American, half French). Rarely does Welles take a scene more than two or three times. Generally the first take is alright. He repeats it in case of an accident during the developing of the film. At times, of course, there is an exception. On one occasion he had to repeat a very simple scene 13 times. Not because the camera movement was difficult or because the actor's script was tricky. No. Simply because Orson Welles was in good spirits. Every time that Perkins began to speak his lines, Welles made faces and funny gestures to make him laugh. And, inevitably, Perkins laughed. And Welles' guffaws made the arc lights above the set dance.
Certainly these high spirits did not prevent him from being disagreeable with everybody not connected to the film. For example, myself. Each time he caught sight of me he ordered the studio manager to throw me out. This of course could not be done as I had special authorization from the producer to be there. However I was at least made to retreat and hide behind some unused part of the set. Generally Welles only spoke to his direction crew and actors and with his daughter who from time to time came to see him at work.
In spite of giving himself the airs of genius, and in spite of his enormous cigars and his ox-like strength, Orson Welles seemed to me to reveal a side of himself that full of timidity, excessively sensitive and even fearful. The simple presence of a stranger made him nervous. If an actor put forward his point of view, Welles became pensive. In fact I am not at all surprised that he has wanted to work on a film adaptation of The Trial. I believe that Kafka and Welles have many points of contact. They both feel terrified of our modern civilization whose vicious tentacles are taking mankind in their grip. And this impression is confirmed by people who know Welles and have heard him talk at length.
The shooting of The Trial comes to an end. Within a week Welles will be left alone and for three or four months he will work on the editing. Let us hope that the producer will not do as so many others have done, and that Welles will be left to finish the film completely. Producer Alejandro Salkind who gave Abel Gance an opportunity to express himself afresh with his latest film, Napoleon, has placed 650 million francs at the disposal of 'the cursed director' Orson Welles. And at present Alexander Salkind is satisfied. The shooting period was less than had been allowed for, although overtime went up tremendously. When Welles feels inspired there is no stopping him. Shooting that has been arranged to finish at half past six will sometimes continue until the arly hours. Undoubtedly it is marvelous that Welles should be able to continue working in a burst of enthusiasm; the quality of the acting and direction proves this. This sort of thing, however, does not appeal very much to the technicians. But at any rate the millions budgeted for this film have been enough. Genius is not always ruinous.
Among Welles' future plans are two films that he has decided to get on with immediately. First he will finish Don Quixote (The subject with him is taboo-any mention of it makes him wild). He needs ten more minutes on it. Only ten minutes and there will be another great film. Up till now however he has not been able to find the money to complete it. With what he makes from The Trial he will finish Don Quixote. Moreover he hopes to meet a producer who will give him a chance to complete a film on bull-fighting in Spain. The theme will be the friendship of two men in the face of death. It was his friend Hemingway who initiated Welles in the mysteries of the bull-fight and I think that the subject is particularly suited to him. The contrast of sun and shade, life and death, fear and courage fall specifically within his own universe. (An it appears that plan are well advanced as Welles recently told Malraux that he would begin shooting in August.)
In the meantime we can look forward to seeing The Trial, a modern commentary on Pascal's deliberation on the misery of mankind without God which Orson Welles is at this moment shooting in Paris, very close to the Place de la Concorde and the Seine.