Welles’s cinematic response to McCarthyism
It was Welles’s cinematic response to McCarthyism, to the persecutions of prosecution gone wild. Welles wasn’t blacklisted, but, as Alex Ross writes in “The Shadow,” his essay about Welles that’s in The New Yorker this week, Welles had reason to worry, because he had been, in the nineteen-forties, “an engaged artist in an increasingly hostile environment.” Welles’s political activities were brave, bold, progressive, and controversial, and he left the United States in 1947 but came back from time to time—albeit rarely to make movies here (“Macbeth,” in 1948; “Touch of Evil,” in 1958).Where Kafka’s vision of the vague yet total accusation of Josef K. is metaphysical, Welles’s is pointedly reportorial. In the film, Josef K. (Anthony Perkins), is put under arrest for an unspecified offense and hauled before a tribunal run by a hectoring inquisitor in front of a braying crowd. Josef’s friends and colleagues avoid him, fearing guilt by association, and suddenly he can’t work. Meanwhile, Welles himself makes an appearance—self-deprecating yet furious—in the film, in the role of a virtual filmmaker. His absence from the American scene, his inability to represent the country’s injustices to itself, is the backstory of Josef K.’s sufferings.