It's All True: Orson Welles's Pan-American Odyssey

It's All True: Orson Welles's Pan-American Odyssey

It's All True: Orson Welles's Pan-American Odyssey

It's All True: Orson Welles's Pan-American Odyssey

Synopsis

Variously described as a work of genius, a pretentious wreck, a crucially important film, and a victim of its director's ego, among other things, It's All True, shot in Mexico and Brazil between 1941 and 1942, is the legendary movie that Orson Welles never got to finish. In this book, the most comprehensive and authoritative assessment of It's All True available, Catherine Benamou synthesizes a wealth of new and little-known source material gathered on two continents, including interviews with key participants, to present a compelling original view of the film and its historical significance. Her book challenges much received wisdom about Orson Welles and illuminates the unique place he occupies in American culture, broadly defined.

Excerpt

It’s All True is the name given by Orson Welles to a four-part film project he initiated in the spring of 1941, just after the release of Citizen Kane, while he and his company, Mercury Productions, were still under contract to RKO Radio Studio. Three episodes were shot on location in Mexico and Brazil in 1941 and 1942, a period marked by the entry of the United States into World War II. The film, part documentary, part fiction, was Orson Welles’s first attempt at cross-cultural representation on film, linking topics as diverse as the evolution of jazz music portrayed through the life of Louis Armstrong, bull raising and bullfighting in central Mexico, samba music during the yearly Carnival celebration in Rio de Janeiro, the epic voyage of poor fishermen on Brazil’s northeast coast to Rio de Janeiro, and, potentially, the capture and slaying of the Inka Atawallpa by Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro in sixteenth-century Peru. The project was suspended, however, before filming could be completed.

Since the early forties, both the footage and its title have been put to new uses and traveled different cultural itineraries. Today, It’s All True is a label attached to 216 cans, or nearly 200,000 feet, of nitrate footage (mostly camera negative) stored at the UCLA Film and Television Archive in Los Angeles. Believed to be missing or destroyed for many years, portions of that footage have entered into public circulation as part of partially restored and reconstructed versions of Welles’s original project, first in 1986 in a twentytwo-minute “trailer,” Four Men on a Raft, produced by Fred Chandler and longtime Welles collaborator Richard Wilson, with the support of the American Film Institute, then in a feature-length film, It’s All True: Based on an Unfinished Film by Orson Welles, released theatrically in 1993. These substantive revivals have been paralleled by figurative uses of the film’s title, which has been rephrased in essayistic commentaries on the film and its history, such as Richard . . .

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