For Reel


The Trial (1962)
July 7, 2017, 12:41 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Orson Welles
5 Stars
The TrialEarly in The Trial, Joseph K. (Anthony Perkins) tries to protest as the police rifle through is belongings, often flubbing his own word choice while criticizing the policemen for the same issue (“Ovular isn’t even a word!”). These problems with language both cast further guilt on Joseph K while laying the groundwork for Orson Welles’ nightmare to come, which similarly deals in incoherence and miscommunications. In this world, it’s best not to question why a trunk needs to be hauled to and fro, but rather to accept it. As the put upon bureaucrat, Perkins brilliant rests between fragility and anger. His affable nervousness casts him as an everyman, but these very ticks establish the maddening tone. The film’s radical angles and senseless set design further this theme of discomfort. When called to the judge’s stand, there’s barely any room for Joseph K to perch there, and later he lays with Romy Schneider in a pile of discarded files and books that seems to swallow them whole. When Welles speaks of the trickery of moviemaking in F for Fake, one can imagine he felt The Trial was his most grandiose display of it (he has in interview said that The Trial is his best film, and one might interpret his definition of “best” as playing into that idea of trickery)—the relationships between spaces are obscured in a way only permitted by movies and dreams.

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Macbeth (1948)
July 9, 2016, 8:59 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Orson Welles
3.5 Stars
MacbethOrson Welles’ hastily filmed and micro-budgeted adaptation of Macbeth for Republic Pictures will likely insult those deeply attached to the Bard’s language—many of the actors perform their lines too hurriedly and insecurely, damaged further by an audio track that leaves much to be desired (having been recorded after the fact in a studio). Much of it is simply unintelligible. And yet, this adaptation is nonetheless a remarkable piece of expressionism, with Welles focusing on atmosphere more than the specifics of the story—the entire film feels claustrophobic and crushing, the prophecy-imposed dread manifesting in a kingdom that is demonstrated through small pieces of rubble and destroyed buildings. The way that Welles dramatizes the delirium through the sparse sets and exaggerations in scale has the feel of a fever dream. One could imagine that Akira Kurosawa was inspired by the resulting images when he adapted the material into Throne of Blood, which similarly uses extraordinarily high contrast black-and-white cinematography and a surreal atmosphere characterized by smoke and intricate lighting. If one is unfamiliar with the source material, this is a great demonstration of how the play feels more than the content of the soliloquies.



F for Fake (1973)
April 10, 2016, 2:52 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Orson Welles
4 Stars
F for FakeWith F for Fake, Orson Welles steps in front of the camera and exchanges the title of director for master of ceremonies. Aside from his frequent direct address to the camera, the film also finds Welles in the editing room, at one point apologizing for the film itself before splicing together new footage. By itself, F for Fake is a hugely intoxicating essay about illusions and the ever-shifting definition of truth, but Welles’ self-reflexivity makes the viewer equally nostalgic. Welles retraces much of his career, from the famed War of the Worlds broadcast to his work on Citizen Kane. As the man looks back, so too does the audience reflect on these projects as the films of a man who, above all, considers himself to be an illusionist. What are the formal innovations of Citizen Kane if not the equivalent of sleight-of-hand—simple tricks that plays off of an audience’s expectations regarding space and the completeness of an image? The self-aware formalism of F for Fake suggests that Welles is a man who hasn’t only devoted his life to performance, but to fakery itself. In the twilight of his career, this sentiment gives the film a melancholic touch, becoming an autobiographical confession as much as it is an essay on truth.



The Stranger (1946)
January 17, 2012, 4:36 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Orson Welles

A standard cat-and-mouse chase directed by Orson Welles, The Stranger plays like a remake of Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, with a charming stranger in small town Americana being pursued by the one person who suspects his true identity. Welles himself admitted that he made the picture to prove that he could direct a typical Hollywood production, though that is not to say that the result isn’t of any interest. Edward G. Robinson, playing an agent for the United Nations War Crimes Commission, hunts for Nazi fugitive, Welles, in the small town of Harper, Connecticut. In the picture’s most memorable moment, Robinson sits down Loretta Young – Welles’ unsuspecting wife – to watch real footage taken at concentration camps. Welles did not believe that Fascism could be completely eradicated in the fallout of the second World War, and, as a result, the picture involves many speeches about just that. In showing the footage, he doesn’t only stress the horrors to the American public by quite literally invading their entertainment with it, but he suggests the criminality of forgetting that such catastrophes have occurred. As to be expected, Welles brings some nice touches – including a motif of challenging the local, all-knowing cafe owner to Checkers – and, while much of the proceedings are solid if unspectacular, his climax is a terrific set piece driven by gripping suspense and concluding with a particularly gruesome death.