It’s All True
June 17, 2005
Richard Wilson, Myron Meisel, Bill Krohn,
Starring: Orson Welles, Miguel Ferrer, Richard Wilson, Manuel 'Jacare' Olimpio Meira, Jeronimo André De Souza, Raimundo 'Tata' Correia Lima, Manuel 'Preto' Pereira Da Silva, Jose Sobrinho, Francisca Moreira Da Silva, ,
Fresh from the success of Citizen Kane (1941), Orson Welles planned to make a collection of true stories to be called, It’s All True. He never finished the movie and over the years it has gained a reputation as one of Welles’ long lost projects that was never fully realized. Eventually, the original footage was found and some of it was edited into a documentary that was released in 1993.
Narrated by Miguel Ferrer, the documentary begins with the first story that Welles tried to make, “My Friend Benito.” He shot it in Mexico as a snapshot of life for a little boy and the people in his village. The documentary teases us with only rare glimpses of the gorgeous black and white footage that Welles shot.
World War II was looming and Nelson Rockefeller asked Welles to shoot It’s All True in South America as a sign of solidarity and good will with Brazil. He also hoped to strengthen relations between the two countries. So, Welles stopped making “My Friend Benito” and was appointed Special Ambassador to Brazil. He was assigned to shoot the carnival in Rio de Janeiro. This left him precious time to direct The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) and act in Journey into Fear (1943).
The documentary features a few of the surviving crew members talking about their experiences working with Welles (“Orson Welles didn’t write. He had ideas,” one person says.) and on the film. The filmmaker wanted to show Brazil as it really was and accomplished this by examining their music, in particular samba and its roots. The documentary mixes black and white footage with some of the vibrant Technicolor footage Welles shot of the carnival.
The director also planned to make a film based on the true story of four fishermen who made a perilous journey (1,650 miles without the aid of a compass for 61 days) on a tiny raft to Rio to protest the kinds of rights they felt that they were entitled to much like any other worker (a union, benefits, etc.). They became national heroes and Welles felt that this was ripe material for his movie.
He ran into trouble when Brazil’s government realized that he wasn’t going to be making a puff tourism ad and tried to block his filming through physical intimidation. To make matters worse, RKO (who was backing the project) did not like the footage they saw and would not allow him to edit Ambersons in person. Welles was forced to do it remotely. A test screening of the movie went badly and the studio re-cut and ruined it and, in retrospect, Welles’ career. His money for It’s All True was cut off and he was left with a very limited amount of film and a small crew. The filmmaker continued for as long as he could but was forced to call it quits in a short time.
It’s All True is a fascinating look at a more obscure part of Welles’ career. In a sense, his subsequent blacklisting in Hollywood was as much his fault as RKO’s. Welles should have gone back to the U.S. and fought to protect Ambersons. After Kane, Hollywood was gunning for him and the Ambersons debacle provided insiders with excellent ammunition to use on Welles. Although, he made some great films afterwards (Touch of Evil, The Lady from Shanghai) he would never again enjoy the freedom and power that he experienced on Kane.