Before the Trial

“Say what you like, but The Trial is my greatest work, even greater than Citizen Kane

Orson Welles

 
 

 
 

In 1960, Orson Welles was approached by producer Alexander Salkind and his brother Michael Salkind to make a film from a public domain literary choice. Salkind promised that Welles would have total artistic freedom and he would not interfere with Welles’ creation. Welles and Salkind agreed to create a film based on the Franz Kafka novel The Trial, only to discover later the text was not in the public domain and that they needed to obtain the rights to the property. Earlier that year Welles’s son, Michael Lindsay-Hogg, had casually mentioned an idea to Welles about adapting The Trial as a stage play, prompting Welles to state that The Trial was an important book and that he should re-read it.

 
 

 
 

Welles took six months to write the screenplay. In adapting the work, he rearranged the order of Kafka’s chapters. In this version, the chapter line-up read 1, 4, 2, 5, 6, 3, 8, 7, 9, 10. However, the order of Kafka’s chapters was arranged by his literary executor, Max Brod, after the writer’s death, and this order is not definitive. Welles also modernized several aspects of the story, introducing computer technology and changing Miss Burstner’s profession from a typist to a cabaret performer. The film begins with Welles narrating Kafka’s parable Before the Law. To illustrate this allegory, he used the pin screen animation of Alexandre Alexeieff, who created animated prints using thousands of pins.

The cast included Anthony Perkins as Josef K, Jeanne Moreau, Romy Schneider, Paola Mori and Akim Tamiroff. Welles initially hoped to cast U.S. comic actor Jackie Gleason as Hastler, but he took the role himself when Gleason rejected the part.

While filming exteriors in Zagreb, Welles was informed that the Salkinds had run out of money, meaning that there could be no set construction. No stranger to shooting on found locations, Welles soon filmed the interiors in the Gare d’Orsay, at that time an abandoned railway station in Paris. Welles thought the location possessed a “Jules Verne modernism” and a melancholy sense of “waiting”, both suitable for Kafka. The film failed at the box-office. Peter Bogdanovich would later observe that Welles found the film riotously funny. During the filming, Welles met Oja Kodar, who would later become his muse, star and mistress for the last twenty years of his life. Welles also stated in an interview with the BBC that it was his best film.

 
 

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A Failed Attempt to Get Back

Please Please Me (1963), the debut album by The Beatles

 
 

George Martin was an honorary fellow of the Zoological Society of London, which owns the London Zoo. Martin thought that it might be good publicity for the zoo to have The Beatles pose outside the insect house for the cover photography of the album. However, the society turned down Martin’s offer, and instead, Angus McBean was asked to take the distinctive color photograph of the group looking down over the stairwell inside EMI’s London headquarters in Manchester Square. Martin was to write later: “We rang up the legendary theater photographer Angus McBean, and bingo, he came round and did it there and then. It was done in an almighty rush, like the music. Thereafter, though, the Beatles’ own creativity came bursting to the fore.”

 
 

 
 

In 1969, the Beatles asked McBean to recreate this shot. Although the 1969 photograph was originally intended for the then-planned Get Back album, it was not used when that project saw eventual release in 1970 as Let It Be. Mirroring the cover of the band’s first album, Please Please Me, was John Lennon’s idea.

 
 

Photography: Ethan Russel

 
 

In January 1969, The Beatles had decided to go back into the studio to rehearse and record new songs and have the project filmed for a documentary. The project’s original working title was Get Back, and an album and film were to be the end products of these sessions. Being older and more independent, the individual Beatles’ tolerances for each other’s quirks had decreased: for instance, on 10 January, George Harrison walked out of the sessions after the latest in a series of arguments with John Lennon over his music and after being harassed by Paul McCartney about his playing style on a take of Two of Us. By the time the Beatles had decided the project was completed, all parties involved were so aggrieved that all of the resultant recordings and film were left on the shelf for close to a year, with no one wanting to face the grueling editing process.