IT'S ALL TRUE: BASED ON AN UNFINISHED FILM BY ORSON WELLES is an intriguing though flawed documentary about one of the potentially great "lost" films of the cinema.
The documentary begins with Orson Welles (in a 1950s television show) recounting his unfortunate experience trying to complete IT'S ALL TRUE, the omnibus feature he was assigned to make in 1942, after CITIZEN KANE (1941) and THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS (1942). The documentary then divides into two
halves: the history of the making (and unmaking) of the film, and the unreeling of one of the three stories Welles had intended to tell.
Through archival footage and interviews with the cast and crew, we learn that RKO Studios initiated IT'S ALL TRUE as a good-will gesture during WWII in order to present a positive picture of Latin American culture. The studio heads abandoned the project, however, when Welles sent back footage
from Brazil they deemed too politically provocative. Ultimately, Welles was unable to finish IT'S ALL TRUE without studio backing, and much of the footage he shot was either lost or destroyed over the years. In 1985, however, several unedited reels were re-discovered, including fragments (shown
here for the first time) from "My Friend Bonito" (about a boy and his pet bull) and "The Story of Samba" (about Carnaval in Rio), and the entirety of "Four Men on a Raft."
"Four Men on a Raft" tells of a Brazilian jangadeiro (fisherman) who falls from a boat and drowns. After the townspeople mourn the young man's death, four co-workers protest the poor working conditions by traveling around the coast of Brazil on a raft to meet with President Getulio Vargas. The
two-month voyage is dangerous but successful, and Vargas writes new social benefits into the existing Maritime Laws. The four men return by plane and are welcomed home as heroes.
It is difficult to know what impact IT'S ALL TRUE would have had in 1942 on North American audience attitudes, further social reforms in Brazil, or the career of Orson Welles. It can be said that the film would have been a major work in Welles' canon, both politically and artistically.
Welles was always well known for his liberal politics, but IT'S ALL TRUE seems downright radical for its time in the refreshingly honest way it presents Latin American culture and challenges Hollywood's usually romanticized view (in FLYING DOWN TO RIO 1933, THAT NIGHT IN RIO 1941, et al.). Not
only was RKO upset by the presentation of authentic Carnaval music and the dancing of mixed races (in the "Samba" section), but the right-wing Brazilian government was equally unhappy with Welles' insistence on filming the "Raft" story in slum areas (a John Fitzpatrick Traveltalks this was not).
Artistically speaking, the bits from "Samba" and "My Friend Bonito" are tantalizing but really too brief to evaluate properly. Both are beautifully shot and the Technicolor camerawork during the Carnaval is exceptional, but it is in the complete "Raft" story that Welles reveals his true gifts.
The plot here is simple, yet Welles creates haunting, indelible imagery, and his stylization calls into question the documentary genre itself, placing the film visually and thematically somewhere between Bunuel's bogus documentary, LAND WITHOUT BREAD (1932), and Flaherty's "factual" recreation,
MAN OF ARAN (1934); the "Raft" section also anticipates the look of Italian neo-realism (e.g. LA TERRA TREMA, 1948) and Brazilian cinema novo (e.g. BARRAVENTO, 1962).
Despite the filmmakers' obvious reverence for Welles, this documentary is marred, ironically, by the very way it presents the original material. The first half of the film only skims over the making of IT'S ALL TRUE, particularly parts one and two. Also, the newly-composed score to "Four Men on
a Raft" has a symphonic, romanticized quality that nearly destroys the quiet dignity of the images. Finally, the editing of the "Raft" rushes is generally acceptable, but lacks the sharpness one would expect from Welles himself.
IT'S ALL TRUE: BASED ON AN UNFINISHED FILM BY ORSON WELLES illustrates the opposite approach to film reconstruction taken with QUE VIVA MEXICO (1930-32), Sergei Eisenstein's own "lost" Latin American project: this academic study film eschews the more traditional mediating elements of music and
voiceovers, presenting the raw footage without any sound. IT'S ALL TRUE: BASED ON AN UNFINISHED FILM BY ORSON WELLES may be the more entertaining film, but it does something of a disservice to film history, and, paradoxically, to Welles, who tried throughout his career to escape such interference
on his projects.
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- Released: 1993
- Rating: G
- Review: IT'S ALL TRUE: BASED ON AN UNFINISHED FILM BY ORSON WELLES is an intriguing though flawed documentary about one of the potentially great "lost" films of the cinema. The documentary begins with Orson Welles (in a 1950s television show) recounting his unf… (more)