Cameras and Lighting Assessment 1 (The Trial)


Describe and analyse the use of lighting and cinematography in Orsen Welles’ film ‘The Trial’. Include how these two interact and contribute to the narrative.


Lighting and cinematography are important to for narrative in all films and this is no exception in Orsen Welles’ masterpiece The Trial. Lighting and camera techniques can convey mood, tone and feel of the story to further interact and contribute overall to the film itself. Welles uses the camera and lighting as part of the narrative just as much as the actual story is. It is within the opening scene that the lighting and cinematography techniques set the tone for the rest of the film. Welles is brilliant at directing the camera movements and lighting techniques and the opening sequence is a perfect example of how well he can utilise these two skills. It is through Welles’ use of a combination of mise-en-scene and film noir that he is able to achieve such a heavy narrative. His use of;

–       Harsh lighting

–       Distorted angles

–       Criss-crossed lines

–       Monumental tracking

–       Long and short shots

Helps him achieve his blend of mise-en-scene and film noir.

The opening scene in which two officers interrogate Josef K. in his apartment has an uneasy and troubled mood to the narrative. The lighting and camera techniques contribute heavily to this scene. The camera angles make the audience feel uncomfortable and nervous. The Trial “clearly draws on the structural elements of film noir to achieve its effects[1]. With his use of film noir in this scene and by “emphasizing the sense of disorientation, paranoia, and alienation that the noir worldview shares…Welles was able to create the cinematic equivalent of that strange blend of nightmare absurdity and theatrical farce”[2].

When the officers bear down on Josef, the audience exhibits the feel of paranoia and awkwardness. This is because of the distorted camera angles in which the officers feel larger. This exhibits their authority and at the same time, makes the viewer feel sympathy towards Josef who feels as though he is being harassed and bullied by these two men. The lighting is dark and the camera angles make the apartment feel small and closed giving the viewer the disturbed feeling of claustrophobia. This is especially present in the quick cut to the men that have surrounded Josef. This short cut makes the audience feel oppressed and tense. This sets the mood for how Josef feels for the rest of the film and is heavily shown through the camera and lighting techniques and movements.

His use of mise-en-scene in this particular sequence is used to great effect. Mise-en-Scene, “ shot in closed studio sets…was more easily manipulated to create nightmarish visions of film”[3]. The fact that Josef wakes up to find that he is being interrogated gives this feeling of a waking nightmare in which the low angles from Josef’s perspective add to the drama. Welles utilises this concept well, “he has gone back to the style of Citizen Kane with its…camera at the floor level and its monumental tracking”[4]. The lengthy camera shots in this scene add to the uneasy mood and uncomfortable tone that is conveyed through the rest of the film. “By means of the movement and the alternation between long shots and short (sometimes as abrupt as lightning) Welles makes tangible the advancing doubt, the paralyzing dread, the penetrating worry, the peace that disappears and the solitude that sets in”[5].

The lighting is powerfully used throughout this scene and is only strengthened as the narrative in this sequence progresses. The moment one of the officers draws the curtains in Josef’s apartment the mood changes. The light seems to startle Josef even more. He appeared uncomfortable in the dark but now he appears even more uncomfortable as he is completely visible to the officers. This helps the audience understand his paranoia and adds to the tension of the interrogation. Welles “lights the set with voltaic arcs of enormous power…five kilowatt projectors are used for simple effects and particular details”[6]. The harsh shadows that protrude from the characters add to the tension and hostility making it feel as though Josef is being interrogated from all angles. “The result is a contrasted image with enormous masses of black shadow which spreads around the light, little by little invading it, surrounding it and destroying it”[7].

Since the officers are constantly in the shadows, you cannot see their faces, further adding to the mystery of their accusations against Josef. It forces not only Josef to question them, but for the viewer to question them as well, after all, the audience never learns why Josef is under trial. This harsh lighting sets the mood for the mystery and intrigue that is Orsen Welles’ The Trial. The cameras “with the light, are the essence of the film itself”[8].

It is through the camera and lighting techniques in the opening sequence in The Trial, that we see how the scene progresses swiftly and if not, uneasily, contributing to the narrative.

[1] Jeffrey Adams, accessed 10/9/12, published 22/6/02 <>

[2] Ibid.

[3] Jeffrey Adams, accessed 10/9/12, published 22/6/02 <>

[4] Enrique Martinez, From films to filming, accessed 10/9/12, published 10/62 <>

[5] Ibid.

[6] Enrique Martinez, From films to filming, accessed 10/9/12, published 10/62 <>

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.


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