An unassuming office worker is arrested and stands trial, but he is never made aware of his charges.An unassuming office worker is arrested and stands trial, but he is never made aware of his charges.An unassuming office worker is arrested and stands trial, but he is never made aware of his charges.
Welles is one of the three primary inventors of cinema. And when he says this film is his best -- and autobiographical to boot -- one should sit up and take notice.
It is a remarkable experience, this film. Here are some elements I found interesting that are not yet noted here.
The impressive interiors are in a then abandoned train station. Today, that building houses the world's greatest collection of impressionist and postmodern art. One can walk around that museum and locate many of the locations used. It is an unhappy building now: it has many objects as important as this film or the book it is based on -- and their intent is as iconoclastic as Welles and Kafka, but it is run as a heavyhanded, relatively totalitarian institution. One gets much the same feeling of trapped artists now walking around it as one gets from this film.
Here's a puzzle for you: what black and white film was made in Europe by a master filmmaker; released in 1963; is a surreal depiction of an artist's angst; uses the device of many lovers or potential lovers in an imaginary array of sexual partners; arranged according to stereotype; is autobiographical and considered by the filmmaker his best. Both this and 8 1/2. Too many similarities for this to be accidental, including some stylistic touches (the painter). Both are films about film-making.
Welles uses actors in a then unusual way. It had long been the practice to take actors of ordinary skill and fit them to characters that more or less match their personality. But that practice simply took advantage of what the actor could do and was as much a matter of the actor exploiting the system as anything else. Welles here exploits Perkins, an actor who hasn't a clue about what is going on and so never finds the character. Clearly Welles wanted the effect of utter disorientation and knew Perkins could not consciously produce it.
Others have since used this technique (the Coens come to mind), sometimes with celebrities who will be really ticked when they emerge from their fogs.
A final interesting element: the framing. Welles is a master of mixing and conflating narrative methods. 'Kane' surely holds the record. Here, he is constrained by the pre-existing text: it is important that there be few narrative threads: Perkins' confusion and denial; the 'state's version; and the whole thing may be a dream or paranoid vision. Welles for instance cannot imply that the whole thing is one of the painter's paintings for instance, something he would have included in a flash if he could. So he extends his narrative layers offscreen by explicitly referencing it as a play he is doing, as a book (a 'dirty' book), and most creatively as an illustrated parable. He frames the film with drawings that are halfway between book illustrations and theatrical set designs. And he narrates them in a manner halfway between a drama and a reading. Very, very clever use of framing to increase the narrative layers by reference beyond what you see.
Ted's Evaluation: 3 of 4 -- Worth watching.
- Aug 4, 2002