The Trial: the autopsy of an adaptation

This source preferred by Richard Berger

Authors: Berger, R.

Start date: 1 April 2015

In 1962, Orson Welles’ adaptation of Franz Kafka’s novel, 'The Trial', was released. Initially, the great auteur of American cinema wanted to adapt an incomplete and unfinished work by the same author, 'The Castle'. 'The Trial' garnered quite lukewarm reviews and it was viewed as further evidence of Welles’ creative decline.

However, right up until his death in 1985, Welles persisted in telling interviewers – such as Peter Bogdanovich – that 'The Trial' was his greatest film. Shortly before he died, Welles took part in a public event at the University of Southern California in 1981, dedicated to shooting the film. There he further affirmed his great affection for a now much derided adaptation.

In 1993, Harold Pinter again adapted the work for film – this time more ‘faithfully’ – and Welles earlier version was drawn back into a critical sphere where it was re-appraised; now, Welles’ version was the definitive Kafka on screen.

The paper poses a new methodology of reconstruction, and foregrounds the concept of ‘active adaptations’. The paper will show that far from straying too widely from Kafka’s seminal novel, Orson Welles in fact had a profound understanding of the German-speaking Czech writer’s work, and the his dark nightmarish humour. From 'Citizen Kane' to 'Chimes at Midnight', the ‘utterance’ of Kafka is visible across all of his work.

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