So much has been written on the films of Orson Welles, finished and unfinished, that it hardly seems necessary to contribute to that discussion at all. But having revisited It’s All True: Based On An Unfinished Film By Orson Welles (1993), a few observations struck me as fairly obvious that were nonetheless interesting. Bill Krohn, Myron Meisel, and Richard Wilson are the authors of this documentary and reconstruction. Richard Wilson had been Orson Welles’ assistant for many years, and has clearly set out to make a film that not only pays homage to Welles’ but set the record straight for popular audiences regarding the period of Welles’ career that followed Citizen Kane (1941).
The primary concern of this piece is not with the majority of It’s All True, which in my opinion is a fine documentary that presents a well detailed account of Welles’ production and initial concept for the film. Rather, the concerns of this short essay remain distinctly with the filmmaker’s “reconstruction” of the last episode in Welles’ film, Four Men On A Raft.
Four Men On A Raft is concerned with two thematic elements. The first is the simple narrative that begins with a love affair between a fisherman and a woman in his village. Shortly after the fisherman and the woman marry, the fisherman dies as a result of poor living and working conditions. At which point four fisherman determine that they must bring their grievances to the capitol in Rio with the hope that changes will be made to the conditions of their everyday working life. Narratively speaking the film begins with a fiction that metamorphoses into a re-enactment of historical fact (the journey to Rio). The second thematic concern is a visual one. Like Dovzhenko and Eisenstein, Welles presents the inhabitants of his narrative as a mass. Individuality, or a breaking off from the mass, is only achieved when the hero (or heroes in this case) have determined to take matters into their own hands to enact social and political change. Even in Welles’ presentation of the mass there is a clear Socialist Realist influence, particularly in the long funeral procession.
Prior to the reconstruction, It’s All True goes to great lengths to present Welles’ project as a kind of humanitarian effort, which is clear. However, in aligning himself with the collective working classes of Brazil in his film, and in his effort to present them sympathetically to an international viewing public, it becomes almost necessary for Welles to adopt the vernacular of Social Realism. The fault in the presentation of the reconstruction is that the filmmakers do not explore Welles’ relationship with Social Realism as a cinematic aesthetic. Instead, it’s ignored for reasons, one would assume, that have to do with allegations that Orson Welles was a communist.