While the late great Orson Wells was filming the soon-to-be-butchered The Magnificent Ambersons and preparing to direct a segment of Journey Into Fear, he was asked by the RKO studio heads to grab a camera and head down to Brazil to shoot some Carnival footage. This act was all part-and-parcel of America's "Good Neighbor Policy" of the 1940s, which in essence was really more of a "Keep Nazi Influence The Hell Out Of Hemisphere" initiative (Brazil's government, in particular, was chock full of Nazi sympathizers, and do I even need to get started on Argentina?) In case you were suddenly puzzled by this rush to altruism on the part of the studio system, let us not forget that, due to ravages of war decimating Europe at the time, the European movie market was basically non-existent. This is also why Disney spent much of the '40s making Mexican, Latin-American, and South American themed films like The Three Caballeros and Saludos Amigos. Opening up the hand of "friendship" to our South American neighbors sure made good political and financial sense. This dose of cynicism has been brought to you by the letter B.
Anyway, Welles was forced to rush completion of both The Magnificent Ambersons and Journey Into Fear in order to head down to Brazil. His initial goal was to make a glorious Technicolor documentary on the subject of Carnival. Welles found himself enamored with and intrigued by the frenzied, hurricane-like festivities of Carnival, especially in the music of samba – music which has its roots in the voodoo history of the country and its people. His aim slowly shifted from shooting the "superficial, picturesque" Brazil on which most filmmakers and documentarians had tended to focus, moving towards an attempt to capture Brazil as it "really" was.
A few months before Welles's arrival, an amazing historic event had occurred in Brazil. A small group of Jangadeiros had endured a near-Homeric ocean journey on a tiny raft, travelling to Rio in order to reach President Vargas and demand equal social rights for their people. Their journey and social struggle had captured the hearts of the Brazilian people, making Jacare and his crew instant and beloved heroes to the masses. Welles was awed by the Jangadeiros, their journey, and their impact upon the Brazilian people, and had decided to shoot a film depicting Jacare's journey and the ensuing cultural phenomenon it created among the Brazilian people. He entitled the film "Four Men on a Raft", and started shooting it with the artistry one had come to expect from the director of Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons. He invented new camera techniques to tell his story: he put his actors on platforms and buried cameras in the sand to achieve extreme low camera angles, used non-actors in leading roles, several of whom had never seen a movie before, and even cast a 13-year-old girl as the romantic lead who had wandered onto the set out of curiosity and was cast later that day.
Meanwhile, all was not well in Tinsletown. The studio heads were certainly unimpressed with the footage they were receiving from South America. They were expecting something more along the lines of colorful, sanitized, non-offensive and easily-digestible footage, not (what they had described as) a bunch of "jigaboos jumping up and down." Institutionalized racism, we hardly knew thee. At the same time, Welles had been editing The Magnificent Ambersons via telegrams from Brazil, and the studio was far from impressed with that particular footage. The story of what went down with Ambersons is the stuff of tragic studio legend – what could have been an even more impressive and compelling film than Citizen Kane was re-cut and turned into something far from Welles's original vision – but it also resulted in Welles's Mercury production company being thrown off of the RKO lot, his career as a director wrecked, and the plug being pulled from his South American project. Left with a paltry $10,000, Welles was determined to finish the project, but the footage stayed in studio vaults for over 40 years.
It's All True is a look back at this harrowing tale. Part documentary, it examines Welles's trip to South America and his struggles with the studio during the filmmaking process in fine detail. Featuring archival interview footage with Welles as well as current interviews with many of his collaborators and actors during the project, it's a fascinating look at a time in cinematic history that many had thought lost to legend. Furthermore, the film also features Welles's Four Men On A Raft footage presented in its entirety. With no dialogue or subtitles, the footage is featured "as is" with a Brazilian-themed score in the background. Thankfully, given the context of the documentary and the presentation of Welles's powerful images, the story is extremely well delivered and easy to follow. That having been said, the documentary portion of the feature is easily more compelling than the film itself, which remains informative and compelling but not overly memorable. The end result is a reasonably interesting non-fictional look at an exquisitely-shot, moderately enjoyable short film.
It's All True is delivered in a full-frame, 1.33:1 aspect ratio. It features a variety of footage shot over the decades on film stock of varying quality. Most of the footage is in black-and-white, with some Technicolor and televised bits. Overall, the quality of the transfer is satisfactory. There is little in the way of line noise, compression artifacts, and pixelation throughout the 80-minute running time. It's a fine presentation of moderate source material.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0, and again is satisfactory if not overly impressive. Much of the archival footage contains a bit of hiss and noise, but the newly recorded interview spots sound reasonably clean. The short film does not have any of its original score, and is instead presented with a Brazilian score that sounds reasonable and well delivered, with fine range and delivery.
There are no extras included on this disc.
It's All True is an entertaining look at lost opportunities in film history. One could only imagine what Welles could have accomplished, both in South America and in Hollywood in general, had his career and projects not been cockblocked by interfering studio brass who wouldn't have known true cinematic artistry even it had crawled out of their collective heads and smacked them in the jimmy with a walnut. In that regard, It's All True is a fine documentary. The film, "Four Men On A Raft" is good for a look but, save for Welles completists, I don't see a lot of replay value in it. The DVD itself is also a mixed bag: while the presentation is fine enough, the complete lack of extras makes this a less attractive purchase. I would say that the disc merits a very strong rental. You'd be surprised what you end up pining for when the documentary is over.