It’s All True

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

Catherine L. Benamou
Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: 1
Pages: 416
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pp10k
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  • Book Info
    It’s All True
    Book Description:

    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 ofIt's All Trueavailable, 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.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93814-4
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Introduction: Locating Orson Welles’s It’s All True
    (pp. 1-22)

    It’s All Trueis the name given by Orson Welles to a four-part film project he initiated in the spring of 1941, just after the release ofCitizen 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...

  6. Chapter 1 In Production, 1941–1942
    (pp. 23-60)

    The question of creative origins is often subject to debate in a collaborative, sequential art form such as the cinema—perhaps never more provocatively than in the case ofIt’s All True,which was produced within multiple institutional frameworks and experienced many thematic and strategic changes over the course of its development. Some of the residual cloudiness surrounding the film’s emergence and progress can be attributed to a four-part structure that sparked parallel and intermittent lines of development, never creatively joined or fulfilled in a finished work. More broadly, one can point to director Orson Welles’s professional mode of operation....

  7. Chapter 2 Toward the Text of It’s All True, Based on the Work in Progress
    (pp. 61-129)

    Here, I will be drawing directly from the surviving material evidence ofIt’s All True,to present a sketch of the film’s narrative and stylistic contours as they developed from preproduction, when it was still a North American project in 1941, to the immediate aftermath of location shooting and Welles’s voyage to South America in 1942. By confining this retrieval to the period of the film’s historical viability as an inter-American project, that is, up to the end of World War II, I intend to sidestep the characterizations that have been made ofIt’s All Trueduring its disappearance, based...

  8. Chapter 3 Postproduction: The Trajectory of the Film Object, and That of Critical Discourse
    (pp. 130-155)

    The predominant emphasis on the disruption—and disruptiveness—ofIt’s All Truein the widely circulated literature on Welles has ironically obscured the gradual and complex process of the film’s suspension, together with the film’s material existence and Welles’s efforts to salvage the project immediately upon his return from Latin America to the United States in August 1942. Ultimately, the film’s prospects for survival as work and text have suffered not only from the apparent inability of Welles and his sponsors, RKO and the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs (OCIAA), to complete it as originally planned but also...

  9. Chapter 4 Almofala: A Wellesian Text
    (pp. 156-193)

    The ability to discern within the audiovisual and narrative construction of a film stylistic and thematic elements that not just are meaningful with respect to the plot but also provide reliable indicators of patterns evident in a filmmaker’s work as a whole, is a primary axiom of structuralist-based auteur analysis. The cultural benefits of this ability are twofold: it is a sign of the critic’s interpretative acuity and insight; and it is taken to reflect the artisticquality and authenticity (or integrity)of the work itself. This axiom has thus been easily converted into an evaluative sieve whereby the “wheat”—...

  10. Chapter 5 Labirinto: The Politics and Poetics of a Text-in-the-Making
    (pp. 194-226)

    IfIt’s All Truehad been completed by Welles in the early forties, how might it have compared, formally and ideologically, with other wartime films developed by the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs (OCIAA) and the Hollywood studio system to improve inter-American relations? How might the two-and-one-half-hour feature in four parts have appeared to hemispheric audiences immersed in nationally oriented, genre-based cinemas?² What kind of evaluation can be made of the film’s cultural politics based on the interaction of director, collaborators, and subjects during shooting, and in light of contemporary models of documentary film practice, as well as...

  11. Chapter 6 Zoom, Pan, and Rack Focus: The Film’s Suspension Examined
    (pp. 227-275)

    Given the interstitial positioning and discursive fissuring ofIt’s All Trueas a text, and the silences that have surrounded its unmaking as well as its making, much has to be gained historically from reopening the question of its suspension and subsequent suppression in the post–World War II period. Fortunately, Orson Welles’s innovative strategies as a filmmaker and public appearances abroad were not lost on contemporary observers and institutional sponsors. Hence, it is in the labyrinth of evidence emanating from institutional archives, as well as testimonies by eyewitnesses, that the empirically grounded (or at least most plausible) causes of...

  12. Chapter 7 The Legacy of a Phantom Film, 1945–2003
    (pp. 276-296)

    Orson Welles’s surrender of the nitrate footage back to RKO in 1946 did not spell the end of the film in either body or soul. Untethered from the text-in-the-making, the film object and the traces of the production event were parceled out, revalued, and reframed to suit well-wishers and bounty hunters at various locations in the hemisphere. For those interested in pursuing its filmic reincarnation, the very same features that have impeded the consolidation of film elements into an integral work—its indeterminate structure, lack of definitive syntax, and absence of suture, the embeddedness of the authorial scoring in the...

  13. Conclusion: It’s All True, Orson Welles, and Hemispheric History
    (pp. 297-304)

    Since I began this project, ongoing efforts to preserve and screen portions ofIt’s All Truehave been accompanied by a series of public discussions, most recently at the Locarno International Film Festival, where two newly preserved reels (from “My Friend Bonito” and “Jangadeiros”) were exhibited in August 2005, all of which have helped greatly to bring the film into the fold of Welles’s studied work as an author. In this book, I have attempted to make use of these unveilings, together with a broad range of evidence culled from across the hemisphere, to retrieve, reframe, and re-present the history...

  14. APPENDIX ONE: Pages from a Research Scrapbook: Jacaré’s Family Remembers
    (pp. 305-309)
  15. APPENDIX TWO: Fact Sheets for Filmed Episodes of It’s All True, 1941–1942
    (pp. 310-318)
  16. NOTES
    (pp. 319-362)
  17. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 363-380)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 381-400)