Archive for July, 2012

Signs of Life

July 29, 2012

Werner Herzog’s first feature film, shot in black and white in 1968, deals with themes that were to reoccur throughout his later works. Signs of Life is set during World War II. Stroszek (Peter Brogle) is a German soldier who is severely wounded in an attack by partisans on the island of Crete. To give him a chance to recuperate, his officers transfer him to the small island of Kos. There he is stationed at a Venetian fort that was built in the fourteenth century, where an ammunition dump is now kept. It is on a hill overlooking a town below. He is accompanied by his Greek wife, Nora (Athina Zacharopoulou) and by two other solders, Meinhard (Wolfgang Reichmann) and Becker (Wolfgang von Ungern-Sternberg). Meinhard is obsessed with killing cockroashes, while Becker is fascinated by the ancient Greek tablets that the Venetians embedded along with the stones in the fort’s walls. They find various ways to try to deal with the heat, isolation, and boredom of the place, such as building fireworks.

Strozsek is deeply unhappy in this place, and his behavior becomes increasingly erratic. One day he goes into town and asks the commanding officer of the island to send him out on patrol, just so he can have something to do. The officer agrees. The next day, Stroszek and Meinhard go on patrol. They come across a valley that has windmills in it. Stroszek has a sort of breakdown at this point, but Meinhard eventually brings him to his senses. The next day, Stroszek learns that Meinhard has reported the incident to their superiors. He goes berserk, and he chases the others out of the fort with a rifle. He then begins shooting at the town below. A delegarion of solders, along with Nora, cautiously approach the fort to try to reason with Strozsek. He tells them that he is now “alive”, and that if they try to capture him, he will blow up the ammunition dump, which would destroy the town. The town is evacuated, and an uneasy stand-off ensues. From time to time, Stroszek sets off some of the fireworks that he and the others made. One night, while he is doing this, some soldiers sneak into the fort and overpower him. They take him away to a hospital. At the end a voice-over tells us: “thus it always ends with people of his kind.”

A recurring theme in Herzo’s films is the world’s indifference to the fate of the individual. In an early scene in Signs of Life, the camera moves through a narrow winding street on Crete. It suddenly comes out on a broad street running along the ocean. We see people moving around in the far distance. The camera suddenly pans over to two dead German soldiers lying on the ground, presumably killed by partisans. After a moment, the camera pans back to the scene in the distance and lingers on it. The deaths of these two men mean nothing to the world at large.

In one scene, a gypsy gives Stroszek a small wooden owl figurine. Its eyes and ears move. Determined to find out how this is possible, Stroszek finds that there is a fly trapped inside the figurine. This foreshadows Storszek’s won fate. After he rebels, we only see Stroszek in long shots. He looks like an insect while making his way around the huge fortress. He is trapped like the fly in the figurine. His attempt to liberate himself from the boredom and routine of his life has only puts him in another kind of prison.

Herzog’s grim fatalism doesn’t offer us much hope, but the breadth and originality of his work make him one of the greatest filmmakers of our time.

Two Films by Eisenstein : Battleship Potemkin and October

July 26, 2012

Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 film, Battleship Potemkin, is loosely based on an actual incident in Russia’s 1905 revolution. The crew members of the Potemkin, which took part in the recent Russo-Japanese war, are given rotten meat to eat by their officers. When the captain finds out about this, he threatens the crew with severe punishments. He has a group of sailors rounded up, and he announces that they will executed as an example. A squadron of marines raise their rifles, but the sailors persuade them not to shoot. The sailors overpower the officers and throw them overboard, but one officer manages to shoot and kill Vakulinchuk (Aleksandr Antonov), the leader of the mutiny. The sailors take his body to the nearby port of Odessa, where it is put on public display with a sign reading “Killed for a bowl of soup.” The townspeople support the sailors, with the exception of a small group of men who shout, “Kill the Jews!”, but they are shouted down. Soldiers show up and open fire on the townspeople, killing many of them. The sailors of the Potemkin retaliate by opening fire on the soldiers.

The sailors learn that a naval squadron is coming to help the soldiers. They get together to decide what they should do. There are strong disagreements. (Some things never change.) They eventually decide to sail to meet the squadron. They will try to persuade the other sailors to join them. If that fails, they will almost certainly die, since they are outnumbered. They go to meet the squadron. They signal to the other ships, but they get no response. They load their guns and get ready to fire, but just then they receive a signal that the other ships will join them. The sailors rejoice.

Eisenstein clearly meant Battleship Potemkin to be propaganda. During the scene when the sailors are about to be shot, for example, we see numerous close-up shots of officers grinning ear to ear in eager anticipation of what is about to happen. And yet this film somehow manages to be something more than that. The massacre seen on the Odessa steps is extremely powerful to watch. It is impossible not to be moved by it. Eisenstein used this scene to test his theories about the use of montage in film. (The massacre did not happen in real life. Nor was it in the script. Eisenstein and the cast and crew improvised it on the spot.) Battleship Potemkin manages to be not just propaganda, but art as well.

Eisenstein’s 1928 film, October, is a commemoration of the tenth anniversary of the Russian Revolution of 1917. (It is also known as Ten Days That Shook the World, although it is not actually based on John Reed’s book.) The film is shot in a documentary style. (I remember seeing it on TV as a child. I thought I was watching actual film footage of the Russian Revolution.) Many of the people we see actually took part in the revolution, and the scenes were shot in places where the fighting took place. Despite these efforts at authenticity, this film is basically propaganda. During the Kornilov coup, for example, we see Kerensky hiding underneath pillows. We also see Bolshevik soldiers smashing bottles in the Tsar’s wine cellar. According to Victor Serge, the soldiers drank the wine and got stinking drunk.

The storming of the Winter Palace is fun to watch, but it doesn’t have the same emotional power as the massacre scene in Battleship Potemkin. Also, Eisenstein used this film to test out a type of montage he called “intellectual montage”, in which a series of unrelated images are shown to illustrate an idea. We are shown a Russian Orthodox priest, and then a series of images of Buddhist, Hindu, Chinese, and Aztec sculptures. This is meant to be an attack on religion, but it doesn’t succeed, unless you think there is something inherently objectionable about sculpture.

Before this film was released, Eisenstein was forced to cut out a number of scenes that had Trotsky in them. Trotsky had just been expelled from the Communist Party. The irony here is that in commemorating the revolution, October marks the beginning of the counterrevolution.

The Dark Knight Rises

July 24, 2012

I remember a Batman comic book I read when I was a kid. In it, the Joker kidnaps Police Commissioner Gordon. When word of this gets out, the citizens of Gotham City immediately begin smashing windows and looting stores. The absurdity of this made me laugh. I realize now, however, that this was no joke. This was the logic of the police state: the lower orders must be kept in awe of authority, otherwise all hell will break loose. This is why some people see nothing wrong with police officers beating up Occupy protestors or shooting black teenagers. It is also the logic behind the exaggerated fear of mob violence that exists among the ruling elites in this country. After the earthquake in Haiti, shipments of food and medicine were held up, because, we were told, “order” had to be restored first. Much the same thing happened when New Orleans was flooded.

Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan, who wrote the screenplay for The Dark Knight Rises, must have read that same Batman comic book that I did. When, in this movie, the bad guy, Bane (Tom Hardy), traps the entire Gotham City Police Department in the subway, angry mobs suddenly appear out of nowhere and start looting people’s homes. Lest there be any doubt as to the film makers’ political inclinations, Bane has his followers storm a prison and release all the prisoners. This is clearly meant to put us in mind of the storming of the Bastille. It’s been over two hundred years since the French Revolution, and conservatives are still fuming about it.

The story of this film boils down to this: a group called the League of Shadows wants to destroy Gotham City, because it is “corrupt”. It’s not clear why they find this objectionable, or why they consider Gotham to be worse than other cities in this respect. League member Bane takes over the city and subjects it to a reign of terror, while cutting it off from the outside world. He takes a fusion reactor and reconfigures it into a nuclear bomb. The bomb is unstable and will eventually go off by itself after some months. My question is this: if the idea is to destroy Gotham City, then why not just detonate the bomb? It appears that he wants to play some sort of mind game with Batman (Christian Bale), though the film is not too clear about this.

One of the things I liked about both The Avengers and X-Men: First Class is that these films don’t take themselves too seriously. The Dark Knight Rises takes itself extremely seriously. This film just oozes self-importance, starting with the title. (Why not just call it “The Return of Barman” or something like that?) The characters give overwrought dramatic speeches. Lots of them. Hans Zimmer’s musical score ranges from lugubrious to bombastic. It is perhaps fitting that Batman is played by Chirstian Bale, the most self-important actor in Hollywood.

At 165 minutes, The Dark Knight Rises is way too long. You could cut a lot out of this film, and it would be a better movie. There is, for example, a subplot about Joseph Gordon-Levitt rescuing a bunch of orphans that does nothing more than slow down the story. Also, the action sequences are sometimes confusing. During a motorcycle chase scene, it looks as though Batman has captured Bane at one point, but it subsequently turns out that Bane has actually gotten away.

I must say, though, that I did like Anne Hathaway as Catwoman. Unfortunately, she is off screen most of the time. I would like to have seen more of her and less of Bale and Gordon-Levitt.

Alexander Cockburn (1941-2012)

July 21, 2012

Although I soured on Cockburn in recent years, I must say he strongly influenced my political thinking when I was young. I first discovered him in the pages of Harper’s and then in The Nation. He wrote in a bold, brash, uninhibited manner that stood out against the wishy-washy liberalism of most of The Nations‘s writers. Even then he sometimes sounded like a bit of a crank, but more often his observations were spot on. He could also be quite funny at times, an all too rare quality among left-wing journalists. The columns by him and by Christopher Hitchens were often the only things worth reading. The two of them shaped my ideas about the world, though ironically they both led me in directions that I think they would have disapproved of.

I was a devoted reader of CounterPunch in the early 2000’s, mainly because of its uncompromising opposition to the wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan, but also because it took a strong stand against the 9/11 conspiracy nonsense that was then threatening to swamp the U.S. left. Imagine my dismay then, when Cockburn, using logic similar to that used by the 9/11 Truthers, announced that global warming was a conspiracy, a vast global plot that apparently went all the way back to Fourier. I never met Cockburn, but I know a woman who grew up in Petrolia who used to dog-sit for him. She told me she was convinced that his climate change denial had something to do with his collection of vintage automobiles.

I grew tired of CounterPunch after a few years. Too many of the articles were either crankery or simply badly written. I must say that Cockburn’s death doesn’t surprise me, because the quality of his writing declined sharply during the last year of his life. (He reached a low point when he wrote a teary-eyed eulogy for Moammar Khadafy.) It was clear to me that something wasn’t right. His best writings, though, will be remembered.

Pandora’s Box

July 20, 2012

Louise Brooks in Pandora’s Box.

G.W. Pabst’s 1929 German silent film is based on two plays by Frank Wedekind, Earth Spirit and Pandora’s Box. Wedekind’s plays were meant as attacks on sexual repression and moral hypocrisy. The star of this film, Louise Brooks, has become something of a cult figure. When I lived in New York, I knew a guy who had a tattoo of Brooks’s face on his arm. (I remember he insisted on showing it to everyone he met. It was actually a pretty good likeness of her, I must say.)

Lulu (Louise Brooks) is the mistress of Dr. Schoen (Fritz Kortner), a newspaper publisher. She lives with Schigolch (Carl Goetz), who appears to be her father, although the exact nature of his relationship to her is never made clear. Schoen tells Lulu that he is going to marry Charlotte (Daisy D’Ora), the daughter of a high government official. Lulu is not happy about this. Schoen is unaware that his son, Alwa (Francis Lederer) has fallen in love with Lulu. Alwa’s artist friend, Anna (Alice Roberts) is also in love with Lulu. (The film indicates her lesbianism by the fact that she sometimes wears men’s ties.) Schigolch wants Lulu to start a trapeze act with Rodrigo (Krafft-Raschig), but then Alwa, at his father’s urging, invites Lulu to join his musical revue. One night, as Lulu is about to go on stage, she sees Schoen with Charlotte. Lulu angrily announces that she will not perform in front of “that woman”. Schoen takes Lulu into a back room to plead with her. They argue for a time, and then they start making love. Alwa and Charlotte walk in on them. Charlotte angrily leaves. Schoen decides at that point that he has no choice but to marry Lulu, in order to maintain his respectability, although he does not relish this prospect. “This is my execution,” he tells Alwa.

On the night of the wedding, Alwa slips away from the reception and finds Lulu in the bridal chamber. He confesses his love for her, and he begs her to run away with him. Schoen walks in on them. He is horrified by what he sees. He tries to force a gun into Lulu’s hands, telling her that she must kill herself. As they struggle, the gun goes off, killing Schoen. Lulu is then put on trial for murder. The prosecutor demands the death penalty, even though Lulu flirts with him. The judges, however, find her guilty of manslaughter and sentence her to five years in prison. Schigolch and Rodrigo set off a fire alarm, and in the ensuing confusion, they whisk Lulu away. They take her to Schoen’s home, where Alwa finds her. At first, he is incensed at her being in the place where his father died, but he is still in love with her, so he eventually gives in to her demand that he run away with her. On board the train, Lulu is seen by Marquis Casti-Piani (Michael von Newlinsky), who recognizes her, knowing she is wanted by the police. He blackmails Alwa into giving him money. He then tells Alwa that he knows of a place where he and Lulu will be safe from the police.

We next see Lulu and Alwa on board a docked ship where people gather to gamble and drink. Schigolch, Rodrigo, Anna, and Casti-Piani have all followed them there. Casti-Piani “sells” Lulu to a pimp from Cairo. He tells her that if she doesn’t go along with it, he will turn her in to the police. At roughly the same time, Rodrigo demands that Lulu give him money so he can start a new trapeze act. He, too, threatens to go to the police. Lulu turns to Schigolch for help. He devises a plan. He gets Alwa to cheat at cards, so they can get enough money to pay off Casti-Piani. He then has Lulu persuade a reluctant Anna to pretend to be in love with Rodrigo. Anna lures Rodrigo to her cabin room, where Schigolch murders him. He then ties up Anna and leaves her there. (It’s not clear why he does this. Does he dislike Anna because she is a lesbian? I suspect some scenes may be missing from the version I saw, which was released by Janus Films in 1983.) Alwa is caught cheating, which results in a riot. Someone calls the police, who promptly show up. In the confusion, Casti-Piani grabs Lulu, but she manages to escape. She finds Alwa and Schigolch, and they get away in a row boat.

The three of them go to London, where they live in poverty. Desperate for money, Lulu, at Schigolch’s suggestion, turns to prostitution. Her first client turns out to be Jack the Ripper (Gustav Diessl).

Wedekind’s Lulu plays are a study in how society’s ideas about sex and “respectability” ultimately victimize women from disadvantaged backgrounds. A lesser artist than Wedekind would have tried to make this point by making Lulu a saintly character, but Wedekind wants us to see life in all its rawness. (Wedekind makes the “hard argument”, as Troskyists would say.) Lulu is not a good person. She is deceitful, manipulative, and sometimes cruel. Yet one gradually realizes that the men around her are far worse. Lulu is one of the great tragic figures of world literature.

Pabst was able to get strong performances from all the actors in this film. This is particularly striking in the case of Alice Roberts, who, I’ve read, initially expressed horror at the idea of playing a lesbian. I’ve also read that when Pandora’s Box premiered in Germany, Brooks’s performance was harshly criticized. I can only assume that this was due to nationalism. (Brooks was American.) Brooks actually gives an amazing performance. She exudes so much energy, that her character actually seems like the “primal form of woman” that Wedekind melodramatically described her as. Brooks began her career as a dancer, which perhaps explains her striking feline gracefulness.

Pandora’s Box is one of the greatest films ever made. The current attacks on women’s rights have given it a renewed relevance.

Killing Me

July 16, 2012

I remember that back in the 1990’s, there was a period when serial killers were hugely popular. It seemed as though every film you went to had at least one serial killer in it. It didn’t seem to matter to Hollywood scriptwriters that 99.99% of the human race are not serial killers. In hindsight, I don’t know how to explain this phenomenon. It was one of those inexplicable fads, like the fascination with truck drivers and CB radio that existed in the 1970’s.

If you’re nostalgic for the nineties, you might want to check out Killing Me, the latest film from the Oregon film maker, Henry Weintraub. Otherwise, I can’t see any reason to recommend it.

Aaron Schwartz wants to become famous. Since he is a thoroughly unexceptional person, the only way he can see how to do this is by becoming a serial killer. Yet he can’t bring himself to kill anyone. He is so ineffectual at this that he actually ends up marrying one of his intended victims, Erin. He gets a job at the post office, but this fails to inspire him. Then he hears that there have been a series of unexplained murders in his town. He reasons that if he can find this serial killer, he can perhaps persuade him to teach him the secret of how to kill. In a completely improbable manner, Aaron manages to find this man, and he discovers that the guy is his own boss. Aaron approaches his boss and tells him he knows that he is the killer, and that he want him to teach him to be a killer as well. At first, his boss plans to kill him, but then, for reasons that are never explained, changes his mind. He agrees to take Aaron under his wing. One night, while Erin is out of town, the two of them go on a killing spree, with Aaron’s boss brutally murdering several people. He tries to get Aaron to do the killings, but the latter cannot bring himself to do any of them. Aaron finally stabs his boss, without killing him, and he runs away. When he gets home, the police show up to arrest him. They accuse him of the murders that were actually committed by his boss. This makes Aaron happy, for he is now famous. At the end, we see Aaron in prison, smiling as he is led off to be executed.

Killing Me is a sick joke that is stretched out to 73 minutes. The supposed irony of the ending is undermined by the fact that Aaron isn’t innocent, since he was technically the murderer’s accomplice.

Weintraub has a problem with continuity. In one scene, Aaron’s boss hits Aaron over the head with a club. When Aaron comes to, he has a bloody wound on his forehead. In the next scene, which takes place a few minutes later, the wound is completely gone. Not even a bruise is left. Also, in the early scenes, Aaron’s house is tidily decorated. Yet in the scene when the cops come to arrest him, the place looks like an abandoned building. This inattention to detail is perhaps in keeping with the film’s shallow cynicism.

Joe Paterno and the Cult of Personality

July 15, 2012

A little bit of North Korea comes to State College, Pennsylvania.

The shocking revelations of the Freeh report continue to reverberate. Rick Reilly has written a powerful article, in which he expresses remorse over his own role in building the cult of Joe Paterno. Back in 1986, he wrote an article about Paterno for Sports Illustrated. While he was staying in State College, he received a phone call one night from a Penn State professor whom he does not identify:

    “Are you here to take part in hagiography?” he said.

    “What’s hagiography?” I asked.

    “The study of saints,” he said. “You’re going to be just like the rest, aren’t you? You’re going to make Paterno out to be a saint. You don’t know him. He’ll do anything to win. What you media are doing is dangerous.”

    Jealous egghead, I figured.

It seems that Reilly owes that “jealous egghead” an apology. This makes you wonder how many other people ignored warnings that Paterno wasn’t what he appeared to be. Or how many people were ignored, who argued that maybe it wasn’t a good idea to shower so much adulation on a man who was merely coaching a football team. “What you media are doing is dangerous.” It was dangerous, and it eventually blew up in people’s faces. When the Penn State Board of Trustees rightly fired Paterno, students rioted on campus. Look at the comment threads on sports blogs, and you will find that some people are still in a state of denial about what Paterno did. All this is simply madness.

If there is one thing that life teaches us, it is that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Joe Paterno, we were told, built a winning college football team while managing to remain completely principled. Yeah, right. In recent years, it became obvious that Paterno was coach in name only, yet people played along with the pretense, because the myth of Paterno had to be maintained at all costs.

And now we know just how much it cost.

Mr. Arkadin (Confidential Report)

July 13, 2012

Orson Welles in Mr. Arkadin.

Orson Welles lost artistic control over Mr. Arkadin while it was in post-production. The producer, Louis Dovilet, released several different versions of this film. The one I saw is apparently the one that was originally released in Britain.

Guy Van Stratten (Robert Arden), a smuggler and petty criminal, and his girlfriend, Milly (Patricia Medina), witness a man named Bracco (Gregoire Aslan) being killed in Naples by a mysterious man. Just before he dies, Bracco tells them that they can get a lot of money from a man named Gregory Arkadin just by telling him that Bracco has told them his secrets. Arkadin (Welles, wearing a not quite convincing wig) is a wealthy businessman who lives in a castle in Spain. Van Stratten and Milly manage to worm their way into his company. In the process, Van Stratten becomes romantically involved with Arkadin’s daughter, Reina (Paola Mori), much to Milly’s disapproval. Van Stratten’s attempt at blackmail fails, but Arkadin, impressed by Van Stratten’s audacity (and hoping to get him away from his daughter), offers him a job. Arkadin, who has amnesia, can’t remember anything that happened to him before 1927. He offers to pay Van Stratten to research his early life. Just as one suspects, he is setting Van Stratten up for a double cross.

Much of Mr. Arkadin is taken up with Van Stratten interviewing various eccentric people. In that respect, it bears a strong resemblance to Citizen Kane, although it doesn’t seem as compelling as Welles’s masterpiece. Again, its should be said that Welles didn’t have control over the final cut, so the many of the film’s weaknesses may not be his fault.

I do think that Welles made a mistake in casting the English actor, Robert Arden, as Van Stratten. Arden’s muscular efforts at sounding American make his character so abrasive that it’s hard to see how any woman, let alone a refined and intelligent woman like Reina, could possibly fall in love with him. I’m told that Welles played Van Stratten in the radio plays on which this movie is based. It might have been better if Welles had played Van Stratten in this film.

Mori’s lines were reportedly dubbed over by Billie Whitelaw, who was known for acting in Samuel Beckett plays. Mori apparently didn’t hold this against Welles, since she later married him.

We will probably never know exactly how Welles intended Mr. Arkadin to be seen. Yet Welles was such a good director that even when his films have been mangled, they are still fun to watch.

Ernest Borgnine (1917-2012)

July 11, 2012

Ernest Borgnine in Johnny Guitar

The most critically acclaimed film that Borgnine appeared in was The Wild Bunch. I have always considered this film to be a bit over-rated. I actually got more enjoyment out of Johnny Guitar, Nicholas Ray’s campy western with Joan Crawford and Sterling Hayden. Borgnine played one of the bad guys. (Truffaut also liked this movie a lot, so I’m in good company.) I would argue, however, that Borgnine gave his best performance as Sgt. Katczinsky in a television adaptation of All Quiet on the Western Front.

The first time I saw Borgnine was on McHale’s Navy. This show was actually a rip-off of Sgt. Bilko, but I was too young to know that at the time. I found it pretty funny, although I remember that I thought it a bit disturbing that they would have the laugh tracking running while a Japanese submarine was blowing up. I came to associate Borgnine so much with the role of Commander McHale, that I was surprised to learn that he was usually cast as a heavy. The first movie I saw him in was Ice Station Zebra, in which he played a Russian baddy. This movie made a strong impression on me at the time. It was perhaps the start of my life-long fascination with the cinema.

Borgnine once said about acting: “The trick is not to become somebody else. You become somebody else when you’re in front of a camera or when you’re on stage. There are some people who carry it all the time. That, to me, is not acting. What you’ve gotta do is find out what the writer wrote about and put it into your mind. This is acting. Not going out and researching what the writer has already written. This is crazy!” Take that, method actors!

Borgnine will be missed.

The Trial

July 10, 2012

Anthony Perkins in The Trial.

Orson Welles’s 1962 film, The Trial, fairly accurately captures the claustrophobic and nightmarish feel of Kafka’s classic novel. Joseph K. (Anthony Perkins) wakes up one morning to find out that he is under arrest. The police refuse to tell him what he has been arrested for or who has accused him. K. remains free, but he is told that he must show up for his trial at some unspecified date. K. eventually turns to the advocate, Hastler (Orson Welles), for help. In the process, he becomes romantically involved with Hastler’s flirtatious nurse, Leni (Romy Schneider). K. eventually learns that if he retains Hastler as his lawyer, he will wind up as the latter’s slave. K. balks at this prospect. Not long after this, K. learns that he has been condemned to death.

Welles saw Kafka’s novel as a prophecy of fascism. The Trial depicts a world of arbitrary violence, in which an individual can be crushed for no apparent reason. There are references to the concentration camps scattered throughout the film. In one scene, for example, K. makes his way through a crowd of people who have signs around their necks with numbers on them – a clear reference to the practice of tattooing i.d. numbers on people in the camps.

Welles does depart from the novel in making K. a more aggressive character than the oddly passive person depicted in the book. He does, however, follow Kafka in having K. killed in the end. I must admit that I found this disappointing. I really wanted to see K. triumph over his oppressors. One change Welles did make was that instead of having K. stabbed to death, he is blown up by dynamite. The cloud forms the shape of a mushroom, an obvious reference to the Cold War.

The Trial has all of Welles’s visual earmarks: unusual camera angles and inventive uses of light and shadow. This film is a feast for the eyes. The bank that K. works in is an enormous hall filled with row upon row of people furiously and monotonously banging away on typewriters – a striking metaphor for the dehumanizing effects of capitalism.

I read that Welles originally offered the role of Hastler to Jackie Gleason, but the latter turned it down. And Gleason later chose to appear in the Smokey and the Bandit movies. Amazing.

Welles sometimes said that The Trial was his best work. Citizen Kane is still my favorite, but The Trial is nonetheless a great film.