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  Directed by
  Starring
  Specs
  • Widescreen 1.59:1
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital Mono
  Subtitles
  • None
  Extras
  • Additional footage - US TV Opening
  • Teaser trailer
  • Theatrical trailer - Compulsion
  • Cast/crew biographies

The Trial

Madman Entertainment/AV Channel . R4 . B&W . 119 mins . PG . PAL

  Feature
Contract

No reminder is needed about the fact that Orson Welles was a remarkable man. A creative mind with a startling gift for originality and innovation, Welles is best remembered by most people for his infamous War Of The Worlds radio broadcast (which caused mass panic as people believed they were listening to a live news report of an alien attack!) - and, of course, his motion picture directorial debut at the age of 25, a film named Citizen Kane thatís considered by many people to be the greatest movie of all time.

Welles didnít think Kane was his best work, though. As far as the man himself was concerned, that honour went to a movie he made 21 years later on a restrictive budget in Europe. Produced by Alexander Salkind (whoíd go on to become rather rich with Superman), The Trial was Wellesí own unique interpretation of Franz Kafkaís unfinished novel of the same name. But Welles not only re-ordered the bookís chapters, he also put his own personal spin on the story.

Itís a rather confusing film, and thatís intentional. From the moment that Josef K (Anthony Perkins) is woken up in his apartment by nameless men who charge him with a crime but wonít say what it is, the film runs on the logic of a nightmare, with Kís initial confusion and outrage turning out to be something more as the film progresses and he faces the courts, lawyers, a disturbed painter - and various women, all of who he is almost casually intimate with but, it seems, also terrified of. The crime itself, if there ever was one, ceases to be an issue somewhere along the way.

Kafka had a lot to say in his book about the way the process of law works (or doesnít), and Welles has a lot to say himself on top of that. Rife with double meanings and unspoken agendas - but, according to Welles, no symbolism - itís like watching an early David Lynch film with a political subtext. The visuals that Welles uses as an intricate part of his storytelling are mind-boggling - this film, completed exactly 40 years ago at the time of writing this review, is done with a visual language thatís only now become part of mainstream culture. Crane shots and long, complex dolly and tracking shots abound, and the latter were done without the aid of modern conveniences like Steadicam. As always, Welles lights his film as much for what you donít see as what you do, he uses sound as a vital tool in the storytelling, and the frantic editing is incredibly bold for its time (remember, this was 1962) and is often as visceral as a modern music video.

Youíll want to watch The Trial a few times to get the most out of it; like the best cinema, there are many layers, details and ideas here that make repeated viewings a very rewarding experience.

  Video
Contract

For a long time itís been notoriously hard to see The Trial with any kind of clarity or quality, and the film was long overdue for a restoration job. Itís gotten it, though not to the Lawrence Of Arabia degree, obviously.

The film was originally shot at 1.66:1 and is presented here in a slightly narrower aspect ratio than that, resulting in small but visible black space at the top and bottom of the frame. Not surprisingly, itís not 16:9 enhanced.

The running time of this version is a bit of a giveaway; this is almost certainly an NTSC-PAL conversion from the same master used for the US DVD issued by Milestone Films. As itís a black and white film, colour fidelity obviously isnít a problem, though there are a few incidences of unwanted ďcolourationĒ in isolated shots - a kind of ďmoireĒ effect in colour on top of the monochrome picture.

Taking source material limitations into account itís a terrific transfer, though. The filmís original opening sequence, essential to the movieís structure and key to the ending, was removed from prints for years. Here it has been restored from a 16mm print; the remainder comes from 35mm and looks a lot cleaner, but in case you were wondering about the scratches and sudden image-quality change early on, thatís why. Reel change marks appear in a couple of different formats, implying that the source material for this new print may have been culled from more than one place.

Despite the length of the film and the fact that this is a single layered DVD, no problems appear at the video compression end of things.

  Audio
Contract

Orson Welles reportedly re-dubbed all the audio for this film after shooting had completed, cheerfully changing the script slightly as he went and doing eleven of the voices himself (including some of Anthony Perkinsí lines) and as a result there are a lot of lip-sync issues throughout this film. Donít be fooled by the fact that it looks, at times, like it was a re-dubbed foreign-language film; despite the IMDBís listing of The Trial under its French title (because it premiered in France), it was in fact made entirely in English.

The audio is, of course, in mono, though itís encoded as a Dolby Digital 2.0 track on the DVD. Fidelity is limited by the technology of the time and the source material, which appears to have been an optical print soundtrack. But itís clear and clean, and aside from some distortion and a slight ďpumpingĒ of background hiss if you listen really closely, this is the best this soundtrack has sounded in a long, long time. The dialogue is of great importance throughout, and itís terrific not to once have to go back and try and make out a line or a word from a muffled soundtrack.

Fans of Albinoniís Adagio in C will be very pleased to hear it played often throughout (it was less of a cliche in 1962) - both forwards and backwards.

  Extras
Contract

Authored by Madman Interactive, the disc contains very stylish static menu screens, along with the usual DVD Text and encoded jacket picture for players that support those features (like Sonyís). The limited extras on the disc are the same as those on the US version, minus the trailer.

TV Opening: Ah, those wacky Americans. Not content with lopping the intro that sets the film up from their prints, the folks at Desilu (yes, Desi Arnaz Jr and Lucille Ball!) had a new opening to the film put together to help explain to the viewers what was about to take place. It does this by revealing everything thatís about to happen, right up to the end, but never quite manages to explain any of it in terms a couch potato would understand. Needless to say, if you havenít seen the film before, watch this afterwards!

Compulsion Trailer: A trailer for the terrific 1959 movie Compulsion, which starred Orson Welles but wasnít directed by him. Typical Ď50s trailer exaggeration, at an aspect ratio that chops the sides off the movieís CinemaScope photography!

Cast Profiles: IMDB profiles for Welles, Perkins and the wonderful Jeanne Moreau, who gets the most pages of Ďem all.

Franz Kafka Bio: A quick Kafka primer; five text pages.

Madman Propaganda: Trailers for Innocence, Walkabout and

  Overall  
Contract

A cinema classic that only got the wide acclaim it deserved years after it was made, The Trial is a masterful mix of bravura filmmaking and subtle satire, and itís one that anyone who enjoyed Citizen Kane should add to their collection without hesitation.

Madman Cinemaís DVD presents this much-mistreated film with the best quality transfer itís seen to date on home video, and while the extras are minimal, itís the movie that matters here - and youíll watch it a lot more than just once.


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      And I quote...
    "a masterful mix of bravura filmmaking and subtle satire... the best quality transfer itís seen to date on home video"
    - Anthony Horan
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Sony DVP-NS300
    • Receiver:
          Sony STR-AV1020
    • Speakers:
          Klipsch Tangent 500
    • Surrounds:
          Jamo
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          Monster s-video
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