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The trial by Orson Welles: cinematography

October 6, 2019
Trial Orson Welles cinematography

The Trial (1962) directed and interpreted by Orson Welles is a wonderful drama/thriller in black white. Anthony Perkins (Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock), is the main character. The screenplay of that movie is a film adaptation from Kafka’s novel The Trial. In this story a man is accused by justice, no one know the exact reason. The film shows us the horrible world of bureaucracy, law, layers, trials and judges. Scenography and scenes are surreal and claustrophobic. The whole movie is a great metaphor to criticize justice. As each film directed by Orson Welles the cinematography is awesome and incredible, full of silhouettes, contrast between lights and shadows, weird point of views, dutch angles, geometrical and minimal compositions and so on. In this article I’ll analyze the wonderful photography of The Trial by Orson Wells describing some frames extracted from the movie.

The art behind The Trial: parallelisms

Let’s start with some parallelisms with art. I’ve found different scenes that remember me famous artwork from painting and sculpture. I don’t know if Orson Welles was directly inspired by this works, but I’ve found different parallelisms. Let’s start with a wonderful scene at the beginning of the movie. Joseph K. (Anthony Perkins) hugs and kiss his neighbor. This wonderful love scene remember me the sculpture of Amore e Psiche by Antonio Canova, lovers’ pose  and position is really similar. In the sculpture the embrace between the two lovers forms a beautiful chiasm, a strong visual element while in the movie scene is composed with diagonals.

Trial Orson Welles cinematography

 

Trial Orson Welles cinematography

Trial Orson Welles cinematography

Trial Orson Welles cinematography

 

The places showed by the film remember me the metaphysic (and surreal) cityscapes painted by Giorgio De Chirico. In the movie we can see the main character Joseph K. lost in giant spaces with imposing architectures.  Below some examples.

Trial Orson Welles cinematography

 

Trial Orson Welles cinematography
Giorgio De Chirico

 

Trial Orson Welles cinematography
Giorgio De Chirico

 

Trial Orson Welles cinematography
Giorgio De Chirico

 

The movie is full of nightmarish scenarios. The claustrophobic labyrinth of bureaucracy in the movie is represented as a maze made of stairs and dark corridors with communicating rooms and dark places. The allegory of bureaucracy and law conceptually remembers me Escher’s drawing.

Trial Orson Welles cinematography
Escher

 

Too easy find a direct connection between The Trial and surreal paintings. At first I think to Magritte’s works. The Welles’ movie is full of surreal scenes with weird places, covered faces, shadows… Surrealism create a sense of bewilderment and mistery. Pictures seem to be dreams, visions…

Trial Orson Welles cinematography

 

Mysterious covered face.

Covered faces in Magritte’s surrealism:

street photography surrealism

street photography surrealism

 

Read more about surrealism and art here.

The contrast: lights,shadows and silhouettes

Another great element that characterizes the Orson Welles’ style in his movie is the great use of lights and shadows. He uses lights and shadows to communicate something and to tell the story. It could be a sense of mystery, an omen, a threat, the revelation of truth and so on… Many scenes in his movie have a strong contrast between different tones. Sometimes he uses light only to share “key elements” in scene.

Below some few examples from the movie.

Trial Orson Welles cinematography

Trial Orson Welles cinematography

The trial Orson Welles

The trial Orson Welles

If you like silhouettes in Cinema I suggest you to look at work of two great director of photography: Rodger Deakins (almost color movies) and John Alton (strong contrast in bw).

Composition, dutch angle and depth

What about Orson Welles’s composition? Scenes in Orson Welles’ movies can be minimal or complex. When he uses silhouettes and strong contrast usually frames are more minimalist. But at the same time many scenes are composed with several subjects and elements in different layers. He was a master in frame composition.  Watching an Orson Welles’ movie we often get the feeling to be in danger and “in balance”. This is possible thanks to the large use of dutch angle with the point of view from below. Sequences shooted in that way are weird, dynamic and dramatic. Diagonals and perspective lines enhance the depth of the scene; there is a great three-dimensionality in these frames.

The trial Orson Welles

The trial Orson Welles

The trial Orson Welles

The trial Orson Welles

The trial Orson Welles

The trial Orson Welles

The trial Orson Welles

The trial Orson Welles

The trial Orson Welles

The trial Orson Welles

Trial Orson Welles cinematography

The trial Orson Welles

Trial Orson Welles cinematography

The trial Orson Welles

 

That’s all folks

 

Stay well, have always light in your life

Best, F.S

Read also:

Blade Runner 2049 cinematography

Red in cinema, art and photography

Read more articles about cinema here

 

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