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It's All True

Orson Welles's It's All True began life in the early 1940s as a hypothetical mix of fact and fiction. The fact portion of the film was to be a brief history of jazz done in accordance with Duke Ellington, while the fiction half would be an adaptation of a bullfighting story by Robert Flaherty entitled "Bonito the Bull." It's All True finally made it to the screen in 1993 as a documentary directed by Richard Wilson, Myron Meisel, and Bill Krohn, detailing yet another disastrous Welles production that went unfinished. Welles is famous for these incomplete would-be masterpieces — Don Quixote, The Deep, and The Other Side of the Wind are three notable tantalizing gaps in his oeuvre — but It's All True holds a special place in the pantheon for being the film that indirectly destroyed what might've been Welles's greatest triumph, The Magnificent Ambersons. Wilson, Meisel and Krohn shrewdly acknowledge this extra layer of notoriety in their documentary, which is first and foremost an attempted reconstruction of newly discovered footage for the third chapter in Welles's Brazilian triptych. Before they get to that, however, they mete out the backstory of the filmmaker's South American misadventure. Having cast aside notions of a jazz history, Welles quickly fell in love with the vivaciousness of samba, which he hoped to introduce American audiences. The only holdover from the initial idea was the bullfighting story, which was now known as "My Friend Bonito." Finally, there was the controversial true-life tale of the poverty-stricken jangodeiros called "Four Men on a Boat." This episode was to recount an amazing thousand-mile ocean odyssey to Rio taken by four fisherman seeking to protest their lack of a pension and inhumane working conditions. These men were folk heroes, and their cause was certainly just — but Welles's sympathy for the working man led some to suspect him of having fallen under the spell of the communists (charges that would dog him for decades). Also, while filming the dramatization of their journey, one of the beloved jangodeiros who made the real-life trip, Jacare, drowned in a boating mishap. The filmmakers and their interview subjects hold that this cruelly ironic twist of fate drove Welles to finish the film at any cost, though they avoid commenting on the agonizing wastefulness of a national hero dying whilst recreating his daring sacrifice. Sadly, the assembled footage of "Four Men on a Boat" isn't as captivating as one might've hoped. Though Welles's phenomenal eye is absolutely in evidence, the images aren't all that striking, which is probably owing to the filmmaker being saddled with substandard 16mm cameras by RKO (in Barbara Leaming's Orson Welles: A Biography, she notes that Welles was convinced the studio was setting him up to fail). Meanwhile, back in Hollywood, The Magnificent Ambersons was being savaged on the advice of preview audiences. That film wound up with a happy ending; It's All True, and the rest of Welles's career, did not. Paramount presents It's All True in a fine full-frame transfer (1.33:1) with monaural Dolby Digital audio. No extras, keep-case.
—Clarence Beaks

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