In Movie Wars, critic Jonathan Rosenbaum holds up the reputation of Orson Welles as a supreme renegade and a warrior against the Hollywood system of moviemaking. One of his most subversive traits, according to Rosenbaum, was in the fact that many of his films lack definitive versions, some (like Mr. Arkadin) having as many as 10 separate iterations, and others existing only in fragments (The Other Side of the Wind). While The Magnificent Ambersons was being kissed off by preview audiences, Welles found himself in Brazil as a cultural ambassador, bringing with him the American government’s gospel of solidarity against tyrannous forces on either side of the Americas. What Welles was supposed to film was propaganda. What ended up catching his artistic fancy was the colors of Carnival, the mystery of voodoo (Welles apparently claimed that this production was damned not so much by RKO executive roundelays, but by a witch doctor’s curse), and the tenacity of the locals. Eventually, his propaganda assignment evolved into a complex, three-pronged docu-drama that would combine ethnography with epic pageantry. But, just as the dark heart of Ambersons was being ruthlessly excised by studio execs on the homefront, Welles’s vision down south was repeatedly hampered by a beleaguered shoot. It’s All True (a 1993 documentary covering Welles’s aborted production of the same title) is a dual-action bit of cinematic-historic revisionism, fastidiously attempting to clear away the conjecture and Rosenbaum-lauded “mess” of Welles’s Brazil episode in the first half, and then presenting newly discovered footage that (we take directors Richard Wilson, Myron Meisel, and Bill Krohn at their words) constitute one of the three segments of It’s All True in its entirety. The roughly 45-minute fragment (called “Four Men on a Raft”) is quite stunning, a blustery, sky-dominated shoreline world that recalls Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky, and it stands apart from many of Welles’s other films in that hubris would appear to be ultimately rewarded. Thus, even if there’s a faint residue of meddlesome canonical buff-n-shine inherent in the enterprise, It’s All True is an essential piece in the Welles puzzle.
Wow. The extant versions of Citizen Kane and Magnificent Ambersons ought to look as pristine as the unearthed Brazil footage presented on this Paramount DVD. The rich blacks and whites of the "Four Men on a Raft" look astonishingly crisp and with a chromatic range that just doesn't come around every day. This is a Criterion-level transfer we're talking about here. The stereo sound mix is serviceable, but I'd almost prefer to watch the "Raft" without the "helpful" sound effects and mawkish music.
What an ugly menu.
Every fragment of Welles footage that surfaces is another dent in the tired argument that the man's only claim to fame was Citizen Kane.