February 28, 2010

My first post on Kafka’s novel,  The Trial includes an image from the film adaptation by Orson Welles, showing Anthony Perkins as Joseph K, and Romy Schneider as Leni cuddling together.  Maybe it was the awful video transfer I was watching, but I couldn’t get through this movie, and I read the book twice in succession.  It’s another very faithful adaptation…again I say, perhaps too faithful.  But unlike Chabrol’s Bovary, and Heart of a Dog about which I entertained similar, but ultimately abandoned reservations, I’ll pass on this one.  Welles told Perkins that the movie should play like a black comedy, a directive very much in keeping with Kafka’s intent, I think, but the comedy doesn’t come through in what I saw here.

Romy, however, was fabulously seductive as Leni, the nurse of the imperious advocate (Welles) who terrifies his clients whom he is supposedly helping.  Like all the women in The Trial, Leni exerts a tremendous erotic pull on Joseph K, a pull which is simply “a snare” in Kafka’s universe.  A snare keeping Joseph from…what?

Black & White Again

January 31, 2010

Comics are in color too, but I prefer the black and white variety.  Thomas Ott makes stories using scratchboard, rectangles of white material covered with India ink.  The artist scratches to reveal the white underneath – once a popular medium for newspapers since it is so easy to photograph and print.  The image above, from Ott’s Tales of Error, is a wonderful example of the way light can be made to shine out of pure black.

Ott’s stories in that book are full of little O’Henry plot twists and Twilight Zone effects, but I felt they fell flat more often than not.  His images, from what I have seen on the Internet, are all similarly focused on the bizarre, the grotesque, and the plain ugly.  His wordless “novel”, The Number, however, is very successful.

In a series of beautifully designed pages, the bizarre story of a prison executioner is unraveled as he is led on to his doom by a series of numbers on a slip of paper dropped by a murderer sent to death on the electric chair.  At first, the numbers, popping up in unpredictable ways in his life, give the man luck, but that’s gotta change!  Here the man, and his new girlfriend, return home after a successful go at the roulette wheel, using the numbers as a can’t-lose system.

The end of the tale isn’t surprising, but the way that the logic is worked out to its predestined conclusion is nice, and the drawings are wonderful.

Another favorite B&W scratchboard example is Peter Kuper’s comic adaptation of Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis. The expressionistic style of the stark black and white compositions works well with the story, and it is very true to the spirit and humor of the tale.  (Yes, Kafka is funny! )

Finally, a black and white image done with pen and ink, and reproduced in the newspapers of 1925 – a Sunday panel from Krazy and Ignatz, by George Herriman.  I have dipped into these before because they are celebrated widely as a high point of comics, a great 20th century achievement in art and satire, and a deep poetical statement about…well, lot’s of things.  At first, I was merely amused, but found them a bit tedious.  Now, however, having followed them a bit, as Sunday readers would have, I can say that the more I read, the more seduced I am.  They have a unique atmosphere and sensibility:  surreal, dadaist, poetic, satirical, slapstick, and always composed with sophistication and wit.  One never knows what will come next.

The plot line of the series is quite simple:  Ignatz Mouse lives for nothing but to throw bricks at the head of Krazy Kat.  Officer Pup tries to stop him, but usually fails.  Kat seems to take the endless attacks as a sign of true love, because when a brick hits someone else in one strip, he is very jealous.  I’ve not fathomed all the motives of Ignatz yet.

Sounds like a dada version of a Greek tragedy.  Here the Kat muses on the nature and source of time in a typically arid and otherworldly landscape.

Here Ignatz thinks he’s come upon a source of bricks to last him for a near eternity of head-smashing attacks on Kat.

The Trial – Cliché and Not

November 4, 2008


I just finished reading The Trial, by Franz Kafka.  When I read it many years ago, it did not make a big impression, but this time I am floored.  Kafka has been a victim of his posthumous success in a way.  Consider this passage from the blog where I found the film still shown above:

When people use the word ‘Kafkaesque’ they are referring to a kind of powerlessnes in the face of a faceless bureaucracy, with vague suggestions of impending doom- marked by a ‘senseless, disorienting, often menacing complexity’ (Wikiman)-as in a ‘Kafkaesque nightmare’ or as indeed in Kafka’s posthumously published masterpiece ‘The Trial’  Everybody can identify with his chilling tale- with its surreal ending and dark humour. ‘He sounds like my kind of guy!” said Bill Gates on being told his corporate trials (Microsoft’s monopoly) were like the ordeals of Joseph K. Terry Gilliam’s 1985 movie ‘Brazil’ is all Kafka–starting with a Joseph K type arrest.

Well, this is all a bit too easy, although it is clear that there is a connection. [I guess this writer has not read The Trial: there was no mistake in his case, as there was in “Brazil,” and there was no violence.  Everything was in order…] Personally, I like the way R. Crumb, in his biography/adaptation of Kafka lampoons the literati as they throw around the term “Kafkaesque” in their cocktail chatter.


What struck me about the novel was the metaphysical nature of the situation.  The religiosity of it.  K’s execution is like Abraham’s sacrifice of Issac, without the saving intervention of God!  And we know that Franz had issues with his father, not to mention THE father.

As George Steiner points out in his introduction to the Everyman edition, what is the sense in taking The Trial to be a premonition of the Nazi death-bureaucracy, Stalin’s NKVD, or other state organs.  The people in The Trial are too ordinary, and they act that way.  They don’t beat people.  They don’t torture.  They all try to do their job.  And most importantly, K is totally complicit.  Why doesn’t he flee – he never even tries to determine the nature of his charge.  He ACCEPTS the system totally.  No, this is a religious parable we are being treated to, one in which the “hero” is irredeemably lost from the start.  Not by accident does the climactic episode with the story of the door to The Law happen in a cathedral, related by a priest, and followed by a rabbinical discourse on the varieties of possible interpretations.  The Old Law meets the New Law, and it ain’t pretty.

The other element of the story that surprised me was the contant sexual element that runs through it.  K moves from one attentuated erotic encounter to another, always unfulfilled of course.

brazil And since I brought it up, I might as well rant on about it – this movie!  I love Monty Python, and I think Gilliam’s animations are funny.  I think 1984, Brave New World, and Zamayatin’s We are literary masterpieces!  But I thought this film was trash.  The look of it was pretty cool, but that’s about how far it went.  The praise that is heeped upon it as a “cult-classic” ignores the fact that is waaaaaay too long; utterly hackneyed in its themes and plot; and positively boring at times.  Cult-classic indeed.  I guess that’s the tip-off.