The Children are Watching


Amazing images from Welles’s THE TRIAL. I was in the mood for some Welles, in preparation for a lecture, but I’ve seen all the major ones quite a lot. However, Fiona announced that she had never seen all of THE TRIAL, so that gave me the chance to see it anew, through her eyes.


The Canal + DVD is pin-sharp. “You can see Romy Schneider’s little blonde moustache hairs!” exclaimed Fiona. Sharpness is conducive to the film’s dreamlike atmosphere. My friend Colin Cowie, while not really liking the film, did admit it had the best evocation of dream logic, narrative, feeling. “In real life, you can sort of walk around things and say, I see now — it’s not like that at all. But in dreams, everything is –” and he shoved his face right into mine to illustrate the dream-perception problem.



Just going through one scene to grab these shots was instructive. Welles breaks up the longer, wider, sweaty master-shots of Anthony Perkins as K and William Chappel as Tintorelli (voiced by Welles) with tiny snippets of little-girl-staring-through-slats closeups. The very brief shots seem to be incredibly numerous — you can tell Welles is occasionally repeating them, but only when I went through the scene to grab images could I see that practically every image is used multiple times, interspersed so that you can’t quite tell. Welles’ experience in magic and his ability to turn economics into artistry and his unwillingness to leave a scene the way it was shot — always STRETCH THE FOOTAGE! — all this is in play here.




The Trial 50th Anniversary (StudioCanal Collection) [DVD]

The Trial 50th Anniversary (StudioCanal Collection) [Blu-ray] [1962]


14 Responses to “The Children are Watching”

  1. It is probably my favourite Welles, and definitely my faourite Welles script. I read the book after seeing the film and really missed some of the dialogue – “Ovular’s not a word” etc. Perkins playing K as guilty is magnificent. Right up my alley.

  2. Day-um. I’ve only seen “The Trial” once in a poor quality VHS recording but those screen-shots look razor sharp. I must see this.

    “Dream-like” (or “nightmarish”) might be the best way to describe the movie. It reminds me of “Mr. Arkadin”–fragmented, discursive, a film full of strange people who don’t make much sense. But then the original Kafka work is itself made of fragments.

    And of course it’s impossible to forget the ending, in which Welles quite deliberately rips Kafka’s ending to shreds.

  3. That’s one of the most frightening scenes in the entire film. The “waking nightmare” quality of The Trial is the reason why it’s been so neglected, I believe. It came along n 1962 at a time when “realism” (which I believe Raymond Durgnat called “one of the 57 varieties of decoration) was the rage. It’s been on my mind lately thanks to a discussion of Marty Scorsese’s After hours,/I> elsewhere on the web. Marty plays explicit homage to “Before the Law” and much else in Welles’s film.

    Welles and Tony Perkins became great pals, but outside of Chabrol’s Ten Days Wonder I don’t believe they worked together again — which is a onsiderable shame.

  4. Jim Hickey Says:

    I first saw The Trial in a Paris cinema in April 1963 on a school trip. It was the first Orson Welles film I had seen, so you can imagine the impact it made. It was hard to make sense of it all as it was a truly dream-like experience. And I was amazed by the editing of the scene with the children. Earlier that year I had seen Psycho and a month later saw Tony Perkins in Phaedra, so he became a significant actor for me as a teenager. Don’t think he did anything better though.

  5. Nice to see Perkins in Leslie Megahey’s mammoth Welles doc (which deserves a DVD release), but no, he doesn’t share the screen with Orson.

    The only bad thing about the French DVD is that it had French subtitles, which couldn’t be switched off — finally I ripped the disc and got rid of them that way. And the end credits are both spoken by Welles and printed on the screen in French, which is an irritation.

    I never had a problem with Welles wrestling with Kafka, I find the onscreen dialectic between them fascinating. The advocate’s last scene with K is like a debate between Franz and Orson.

  6. Perkins and Welles were also together in “Is Paris Burning?” but it is a shame they didn’t work more together.

    Welles’s The Trial is one of the great dream films isn’t it, I think it’s partly that uncertain geography, where you’ve got both a sense of a space, but you keep moving and it keeps gradually changing. I’ve had dreams where I’m running through somewhere like Edinburgh and I turn a corner into somewhere like Barcelona. Here it’s Paris then Yugoslavia.

    Also dreamlike is the way that almost everyone seems to know K’s secrets, I find I can never keep a secret in a dream.

    I do think it’s a shame this isn’t considered one of the great Welles films. Maybe because it wasn’t what the critics expected of Welles (where’s the great man?) Maybe because it keeps the same grim mood throughout, where his other films mix the tones.

    I think it’s also a shame when people who like Kafka don’t like it, because an adaptation should take liberties. Alan Bennett was quite snippy about it his memoirs, and he made a pretty good Kafka film himself with Richard Eyre and Daniel Day Lewis “The Insurance Man” and a great play “Kafka’s Dick”

  7. I remember Alan Bennett saying he was surprised when he read Kafka after seeing Welles’ take that it was mainly quite small rooms, but I don’t recall the snippiness.

    Dream geography is a powerful effect, and Perkins even notices how strange it is at the end: “This is the law court offices!” “That seems to surprise you,” replies Tintorelli with perfect dream omniscience.

  8. I can’t find the quote, but it was about the focus on the sets and lighting and how that isn’t what Kafka is about.
    There’s something similar in Writing Home: He complains about the South Bank Shows episode on Kafka with it’s long featureless corridors, lofty rooms and distorted camera angles,
    “The mistake in dramatizing Kafka is always the same…actors and directors don’t play the text, they play the implications of the text. So Joseph K instead of being just a bank clerk, wrongly accused, becomes emblematic of everyone who has been wrongly accused. What Kafka writes is a naturalistic account of ordinary behavior, and that is what actors should play and let the implications take care of themselves. Directors similarly”

  9. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’ve got no problem at all with Welles’s deciding to rewrite Kafka. It’s one of the most fascinating things I’ve ever seen because it’s so transparent: it’s like Welles, at the very end, gave Joseph K. the ability to comment on his own story, and it’s almost as though K. himself decides he’s not going to die like a dog, not this time.

  10. The very odd thing — with Welles, every impulse has a counterpoint — is that K grabs for the dynamite, and there’s a looong pause in which he has every opportunity to hurl it away, but as far as we can tell, he doesn’t. So that this ending is more like a suicide than Kafka’s meek lamb to the slaughter.

  11. “Boring!” is probaby what Welles would say to Bennett’s call for fidelity and low-key naturalism. The Pinter-scripted remake would bear him out, though I have to believe some of the problem there is the direction. Pinter seems a superb choice to adapt, but I don’t remember much distinctive comedy of menace in it. And Welles’ decision to update looks like the right one to me.

  12. Fiona here – I absolutely loved this film. I agree that it captures dream logic perfectly. Someone should put it on a double bill with Eraserhead, which shares the same quality. Perkins is magnificent (one of my favorite actors) and it is indeed a tragedy that he didn’t work with Welles more. I also said, (rather obviously) that Terry Gilliam owes Welles a huge debt. Especially with The Trial.

  13. F back – I picked up on the looong pause before he hurls the dynamite and wondered right away what was going on. The two goons don’t seem terribly interested in him and probably would have let him get away if he’d thrown it sooner. So yes, it does seem like a suicide. “I’ve had enough of this endless, labyrinthine shit, but I’m going out with a bang (and hysterical laughter) not a whimper!”

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