Orson Welles + Franz Kafka? Yes, it exists.

Franz Kafka + Orson Wells = The Trial…In fact, it exists in the public domain.

The Trial is an exceptionally strange film, at least for something that was made by a fairly “mainstream” director by Orson Welles. Adapted from the Franz Kafka novel of the same name, the film was released in 1962 and starred Mr. Norman Bates himself, Anthony Perkins. It’s a maze of gorgeous film noir cinematography and dense existentialism. I can barely tell you what it is really about, but I was endlessly fascinated by its parade of extremely odd scenes and shadows.

A man is arrested by other men who say they are cops, but who have no uniform or no hint of what the man is accused of. He fights a system that everyone seems to understand except him and the audience. He runs through endless shady corridors, which are alternately built out of stone, piles of paper, filing cabinets, rainy windows, paintings of judges, zombie-like men, or slats of wood that hid giggling hordes of fangirls. At a late point in the film, Orson Welles himself emerges, steaming, from a pile of pillows and blankets. There’s something about a birthday cake.

At no point does anyone turn into a giant cockroach, but it wouldn’t have surprised me.

Orson Welles was fond of saying that this was the best film he ever made. It truly is a helluva thing, even if I don’t feel like I’m smart enough (or existentialist enough) to understand it. At some point in the future, I’ll be happy to give it another view, dig in, and really make an effort to figure it out. As it is, it makes for a wonderfully atmospheric fever-dream about a lost, accused man.

If you care to take a look yourself, the film is readily available: it’s in the public domain ever since it was made (no copyright was ever filed), so you can even dig it out of YouTube if you feel like it. It’s currently on Netflix Streaming until 5/12/2012. Sadly, they aren’t great transfers, but you’ll get the idea. (If you really want a nice version, I hear the Millenium DVD is quite nice. I might have to snag it myself.)

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