It's All True (film)
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|It's All True|
Theatrical release poster for the 1993 documentary
|Directed by||Orson Welles
|Produced by||Orson Welles|
|Written by||Orson Welles|
It's All True is an unfinished Orson Welles feature film for RKO Pictures comprising three stories about Latin America. "My Friend Bonito" was shot in 1941 and both "The Story of Samba" and "Four Men on a Raft" in 1942.
"I didn't want to do it, really," Welles told Peter Bogdanovich. "I just didn't know how to refuse. It was a non-paying job for the government that I did because it was put to me that it was a sort of duty."
The unrealized production was the subject of a 1993 documentary written and directed by Richard Wilson, Bill Krohn and Myron Meisel.
- 1 Pan American
- 2 "My Friend Bonito"
- 3 "The Story of Samba"
- 4 "Four Men on a Raft"
- 5 The demise of the project
- 6 It's All True: Based on an Unfinished Film by Orson Welles
- 7 References
- 8 Bibliography
- 9 External links
In 1941, Welles planned to release a film in four parts initially known as Pan American. The project quickly evolved into It's All True. The four original sections were "Jam Session". "Love Story", "Bonito the Bull", and "Captain's Chair". The overall theme of the film was to be showing the broad variety of American life.
Jam Session was conceived as a story of jazz following it from its roots to place in American culture in 1940s. The title was later changed to "The Story of Jazz". Welles contacted Duke Ellington in the summer of 1941 asking his participation as a co-author, co-director, and musical supervisor. Welles put Ellington under contract at $1,000 a week for the project. Ellington collected $12,500 and wrote 28 bars of music for the project before it was shelved as a part of It's All True. According to Internet Movie Database, this "history of jazz" section was to depict the story of Louis Armstrong and is the only segment for which no filming was ever begun.
"Love Story", based on a story by John Fante, was to tell the tale of a courtship of his Italian parents who met in San Francisco. The piece was presented as being based on the lives of Fante's parents, but in actuality was not. A script was written, but Fante devoted his attention afterward to working on the "My Friend Bonito" section.
"Bonito the Bull"
"Bonito the Bull" was based on a bullfighting story written by Robert Flaherty and set in Mexico. It later evolved into "My Friend Bonito" and remained a part of the film.
"The Captain's Chair"
"The Captain's Chair" was based on a 1938 novel by Robert Flaherty. The central character is sent into the Arctic to extract minerals and discover the fate of a missing explorer (Captain Grant). The story is somewhat similar in plot and theme to Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. This section was quickly shelved.
"My Friend Bonito"
"Bonito the Bull", retitled "My Friend Bonito" and produced by Flaherty, was about a Mexican boy's friendship with a bull. It was filmed in Mexico in black-and-white under the direction of Norman Foster beginning in September 1941 and supervised by Welles. Because of its subject and location, the short film was later integrated into It's All True.
"The Story of Samba"
Two weeks after Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Welles was asked by Nelson Rockefeller (then, the coordinator of Inter-American Affairs) to make a non-commercial film without salary to support the war effort as part of the Good Neighbor Policy. RKO Radio Pictures, of which Rockefeller was a major shareholder and a member of its board of directors, would foot the bill, with the Office of Inter-American Affairs guaranteeing up to $300,000 against potential financial losses. After agreeing to do the project, he was sent on a goodwill mission to Brazil in February 1942 to film Rio de Janeiro's Carnaval in both Technicolor and black-and-white. This was the basis for "The Story of Samba".
"Four Men on a Raft"
The third part of the film was inspired by an article Welles read in the December 8, 1941 issue of Time titled "Four Men on a Raft". The story was about four impoverished Brazilian fishermen who set sail from Fortaleza on the "São Pedro", a simple sailing raft (jangada), in September, 1941. After 61 days and 1,650 miles without any navigating instruments, braving the wind, rain and fierce sun, and making many friendly stops along the way, they sailed into Rio de Janeiro harbor as national heroes. The four men, led by Manoel Olimpio Meira who was called "Jacaré" (alligator) after the village where he was born, had arrived in what was then the Brazilian capital to file their grievances directly to President Getúlio Vargas against an economically exploitative system in which all fishermen were forced to divide half of their weekly catch amongst themselves (the other half went to the jangada owners) and that they were ineligible for social security benefits. The result was a bill that was signed into law by President Vargas that entitled the jangadeiros to the same benefits awarded to all union laborers - retirement funds, pensions for widows and children, housing, education and medical care.
The reenactment of this epic voyage, which used the same title as the Time article and was filmed in black & white without sound, was to become the centerpiece of It's All True. It also cost the life of the leader of the four jangadeiros. During filming in May, 1942, Jacare fell from a jangada and was swallowed by a treacherous ocean current. His decomposing head and both of his half-devoured arms were discovered a week later when a 440-pound shark caught off Barra da Tijuca was opened.
The demise of the project
Major changes occurred at RKO in 1942. Floyd Odlum took over control of the studio and began changing its direction. Rockefeller, an important backer of the film, left the RKO board of directors. Around the same time, the principal sponsor of Welles at RKO, studio president George Schaefer, resigned. The changes throughout RKO caused a reevaulation of the project.
Welles' relations with his studio RKO were troubled during production. He had left California with editing on The Magnificent Ambersons unfinished. Welles being in Brazil also led to communication problems and misunderstandings between himself and the studio. The escalating costs of the project and the production-related death of Jacare also worked against the film, and RKO terminated the project. Welles was allowed to finish shooting "Four Men on a Raft" by mid-July 1942 with a minimal budget and crew. When Welles returned to the United States, RKO ended its contract with him and It's All True was abandoned.
Welles sought to continue the project elsewhere and tried to persuade other movie studios to finance the completion of the project. Welles eventually managed to purchase some of the footage of the film, but ended up relinquishing ownership back to RKO based on his inability to pay the storage costs of the film. Some footage was eventually dumped into the Pacific Ocean by RKO to create additional space in its studio storage facilities. The remaining footage was forgotten in the RKO vaults until it was discovered in 1985 in 300 cans, some labeled "Bonito," others "Brazil". The majority of the lost footage was from the portions of the film shot at Carnaval.
Welles also thought that the film had been cursed by voodoo. He said in an interview, aired on the show Unexplained Mysteries, that at one point he found the script pierced completely through with a long needle. At the end of the needle was "a length of red thread." At that point, he decided that he could not finish the film.
It's All True: Based on an Unfinished Film by Orson Welles
|It's All True: Based on an
Unfinished Film by Orson Welles
|Directed by||Bill Krohn
|Produced by||Catherine L. Benamou (associate)
|Written by||Bill Krohn
|Editing by||Ed Marx|
|Distributed by||Canal Plus/Paramount Pictures|
|Running time||85 minutes|
It's All True: Based on an Unfinished Film by Orson Welles is a 1993 documentary.
The driving force behind the documentary was Richard Wilson who collaborated with Welles on It's All True and most of his stage productions, radio shows, and other feature films. In 1986 Wilson, along with Bill Krohn, the Los Angeles correspondent for Cahiers du cinéma, made a 22-minute trailer to raise money for the project. They were joined by film critic Myron Meisel the next year and Catherine Benamou in 1988. Benamou, a Latin American and Caribbean specialist fluent in the dialect spoken by the jangadeiros, performed the field research and conducted interviews with the film's original participants in Mexico and Brazil. Wilson would continue to work despite having been diagnosed with cancer which he only disclosed to family and close friends. It wasn't until after his death in 1991 when the project finally got the funding needed to complete the documentary from Canal Plus.
In terms of cinema history and scholarship, the highlight of this year's New York Film Festival is the presentation of It's All True: Based on an Unfinished Film by Orson Welles. … This documentary is a long, seductive footnote to a cinema legend.
Film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum called the film "an exemplary, scrupulously researched documentary about the making and unmaking of Orson Welles’s 1942 Latin American documentary feature It’s All True — a project doomed by a change of studio heads at RKO, but also by its radical politics: Welles’s problack stance and his focus on the poorest sectors of Brazilian life upset RKO and the Brazilian dictatorship alike. (His career never fully recovered from the ensuing studio propaganda, and this film represents the first major effort after half a century of obfuscation to set the record straight.)"
Home video releases
- 2004: Paramount (Full Screen Collection), Region 1 DVD, November 30, 2004
- Richard B. Jewell, RKO Radio Pictures: A Titan is Born, University of California Press, 2012 p 249-250
- This is Orson Welles, HarperAudio (September 30, 1992) ISBN 1-55994-680-6 (audiocassette). "Radio, Television, Comics and more" (Tape 4B, 9:25-9:40).
- "Movie Review: It's All True Based on an Unfinished Film by Orson Welles (1993)". Canby, Vincent, The New York Times, October 15, 1993. Retrieved 2014-01-01.
- "It's All True: Based on an Unfinished Film by Orson Welles". Rosenbaum, Jonathan, October 22, 1993. Retrieved 2014-01-11.
- Benamou, Catherine L. It's All True: Orson Welles' Pan-American Odyssey. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2007.
- Rosenbaum, Jonathan. "Truth and Consequences," Chicago Reader, October 29, 1993.
- "Four Men on a Raft," Time (magazine), December 8, 1941: 30.
- "End of a Hero," Time (magazine), June 8, 1942: 40-41.