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November 26, 2016


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Fascinating. Thank you, Glenn.


Fascinating, of course, Glenn. Stuff like this is why I subscribe to your blog to get beyond the paywall.

I wonder how much of this explains why I've long thought Wells' The Trial is an oddly weak film. This angle never occurred to me, but now I'm wondering...


I'll join in the accolades, and at the same time, I can't help but wonder which current events might have inspired your last paragraph. On second thought, maybe I don't...

Incidentally, and somewhat off topic, but I can't help but ask: is the Barbara Leaming biography of Orson Welles any good? I picked up an used copy recently and just started it, and was wondering why none of the Welles scholars on the Web (J. Rosenbaum, Glenn himself, etc.) cite it as often as they do with others (like the Bogdanovich one, the Simon Callow one...) I haven't picked from it any cheap/sensationalized vibes so far, from what I've read...

Glenn Kenny

Yes, Leaming's biography is good and well-regarded. It's certainly far better than Charles Higham's book. I think one reason it's not so frequently cited is because it's been in a sense lapped by "This Is Orson Welles" and now by Callow's monumental work.


Great to read an in-depth and erudite essay again on your blog, Glenn! I thought you'd killed it after virtually no-one bothered to leave you feed-back after your fantastic Abbas Kiarostami memorandum in July.


Another pleased reader here. Glad to have you back, Glenn, however temporary.

And this reminds me that I need to get that Blu-ray of The Stranger one of these days.

keeva d.

Great write-up, Glenn!

"And as visually beautiful and thrilling and unsettling as Welles’ movie is, one constantly senses that it is a work that is tortuously uncertain of what it wants to mean."

A kinda random thought: To me this is what makes many films exciting: they feel like art that is in the process of discovering itself. They stumble forward and through their contradictions and missteps reveal something more interesting than if the film-makers had been a bit more coherent or single-minded. In Welles' own filmography I'm thinking of Othello, which is perfectly ragged and inconsistent. I think of this as providing the viewer with what Lynch called "room to dream."

That Fuzzy Bastard

This is a great essay. So please understand I'm disagreeing with some of it just because, well, I question a few points. Because I agree with keeva that the movies' uncertainty is its greatest strength; while Welles could sometimes work a bit hard to make sure we got the point, The Trial is one I can keep rewatching because there's so much mystery to it.

I do want to push back a little at THE STRANGER's notion that Kindler's line about "Marx wasn't a German, he was a Jew" being a giveaway. Speaking as an American Jew who's lived in Russia, I can say that this would be a completely uncontroversial statement in Germany, or just about anywhere else (in France they would argue about it, but it would still be there). In the Soviet Union, "Jewish" was listed as your nationality, just like "Ukrainian", and plenty of friends describe themselves as "half Jewish, half Russian." This is always very weird for Americans, who (mostly) think of nationality as totally separate from racial heritage, but that's just not how Europeans (of course, Russians are not quite Europeans, but nu) think of nationality, or race. A Jew of the time would bristle or smirk if you called him "a German", but they would certainly think it wrong. Which may, of course, be why things could go so badly.

Whether one could be both Jew and German was much discussed in Kafka's time, but it was always a question of willful departure, not fleeing anti-Semitism, and I think is key to both the book and the movie of The Trial. Because for all his predictive powers, Kafka is writing about pre-Holocaust Europe, arguably even pre WWI-Europe, and the landscape of Judaism, and outsiderness, looks very different. The Austro-Hungarian Empire, where Kafka grew up, didn't even have a national anthem or common language; nationalism, particularly ethnic nationalism, were just developing, and Austro-Hungary was particularly dismissive of it.

K is not Othello, the outsider who was only ever allowed in provisionally and can have his status snatched away, nor is he Akaky Akakievich, a downtrodden little man who gets ground up without a second thought. He's a promising young executive with plenty of connections, who doesn't hesitate to pull rank whenever he can. His boss explicitly tells him that he has a bright future and shouldn't mess it up with too-young girls (one more case of the movie using the noir trope of someone being condemned for the one crime they didn't commit).

Part of the genius of Welles' film is that it grasps so many adaptations miss: K is not enacting the Christian myth of the noble outsider being crushed by an evil system; he's enacting the Jewish myth of the insider who transgressed the law, and is being cast out for it. The joke being, of course, that the nature and consequence of his transgression is so murky that it casts doubt on the law. But however Jewish Josef K might be (perhaps his last name is omitted precisely so we can't tell), he's emphatically a member of the club, which is what makes his downfall so ominous. If he were being cast out for his Judaism, at least it would make sense. But all of this is happening because… and then there's no answer.

PS: It's really strange, almost unbelievable, to hear that Welles was seemingly unaware or uninterested in Perkins' closeted sexuality. It's such a running "joke" in the movie that every beautiful woman K meets throws herself at him, and he's flummoxed, never knowing how to follow through. Maybe it was Welles being discreet, or maybe it was just a stroke of luck.

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