The unfinished Brazilian pearl of Orson Welles



Considerations on “It's All True”, the unfinished documentary by the American filmmaker

“The painful struggle with the work, its abandonment and the indifference towards its later destiny, can be characteristics common to many artists” (Sigmund Freud. A childhood memory of Leonardo Da Vinci).

The history of cinema is made up of great lost films. The dominant form of production in cinematographic art, involving large amounts of capital, often makes the artist's creation particularly fraught with uncertainty. Depending on the production conditions, the cinematographic artist often has to deal with the frustration of seeing an art that involves the elaboration of images reduced to the multiplication of scripts and intentions. These difficulties are even greater within a production regime whose final evaluation point is the return on the high sums of capital invested in the cinematographic work.

It is in this context that the question of the artist's mastery over his creation in the cinematographic field and the incidence of a stylistic dimension related to the authorial horizon must be analyzed. This, which seems to be commonplace in other arts, is a delicate point in cinema. From the mediation, from the conflict between personality and the production conditions that are adverse to it, emerge works (films) of an undeniably personal style: Welles, Lang, Stroheim, Renoir, Glauber, Hitchcock, Fellini, Truffaut, Bergman, Godard, Eisenstein and some others.

It is interesting to note how these directors, after decades creating stories, end up building a fictional life story as well, with passages specially designed for the media. Lang's dialogue with Goebbels, Hitchcock's punishment when his father sends him to the police station, Stroheim's noble past, Welles' childhood prodigy, etc. The most careful biographers find it difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff when dealing with the incurable fictionists who are the great directors. Among them, prominence must be given to the liar Orson Welles, who made deceit and biographical mystery a recurring theme in his work (Truths and lies, Fetters of the Past (Confidential Reporter), Citizen Kane).

Of all the layers he built on his biography, the one that today finds the least foundation is the happy childhood of a child prodigy, with sensitive and understanding parents. In reality, the young Welles seems to have intensely lived the delicate situation of a love triangle, with a strong and dominating mother, in the constant presence of the lover, later called the boy's guardian, and an absent, alcoholic and depressed father. It is from the incidence of this painting in the first work of Welles that the interesting analyzes of Laura Mulvey, Robert Carringer and André Bazin are situated.[I].

Citizen Kane e Pride (also known as The Splendor of the Ambersons) then emerge as films that have in their dramatic core the perspective of the traumatic separation from the mother and the elaboration of this loss by the central character[ii]. In Citizen Kane this separation, as a loss of the idyllic universe, is symbolized by the enigma “Rosebud” as a memory-object from childhood and part of the narrative structure (the scene of the mother's separation is striking and constitutes one of the strengths of the film); in Pride emerges through the son's rivalry with the mother's lover in the father's absence, represented by the conflict between Eugene Morgan and George Minafer.

As a symptom of Welles' difficulty in dealing with his own family romance, Carringer recalls his puzzling refusal to play the part of George (Superb is the only Welles film in which Welles does not work as an actor), apparently a role tailored to his needs. physique and personality. Also mentioned is the absence of a Hamlet in his vast work with Shakespeare's body of work in theater and cinema. “Childhood obsession in the work of Orson Welles or, perhaps, his nostalgia”, as Bazin mentions, in the analysis of the author's first films. Citizen Kane e Pride they delineate, in effect, a framework where the motivation of all dramatic action seems to converge towards a center of gravity in which the idyll and mother-child completeness are broken or threatened.

Welles' trip to Brazil and the making of the documentary in Brazilian lands within the project It's All True) should be analyzed as part of a whole made up of the director's first films made between 1940 and 1942. Citizen Kane e Pride (to which we can add Dread Journey, which he does not sign, with some scenes directed shortly before his departure from the USA), the shots taken in 1942, in Brazil, come to compose the first cinematographic nucleus of Welles' work, a nucleus that is followed by some years of inactivity (in his career, next movie is The weird 1946).

These initial films are made based on the Mercury-RKO contract, signed by Welles when he went to Hollywood and which, as is known, provided for the director's broad control over the making of three feature films. The mishaps generated in the production of these three films, aggravated by his long displacement and stay in Brazil, ended up generating the mythical dimension of this remarkable trait of Welles' personality: his difficulty in completing what he started[iii].

In this question, two elements are superimposed and mixed: the personal conditions that involve the director Welles creating artistically and the way of functioning with monetary expectations of the great American studios. We deal with the delicate combination of the director-artist figure, the author, in conflict with the raw material on which he exercises his activity, a conflict over-determined by the industrial cinematographic production mode. the making of Citizen Kane and the assembly of Pride, simultaneous to the trip to Brazil, are the point where studies of Welles' work inevitably converge, clearly dividing into the pro and the contra camp.

Welles always had the gift of provoking radical polemics in his life and commentators on his work do not seem to escape this rule. In Raising Kane[iv], published while Welles was still alive, the American critic Pauline Kael, portrays the figure of a vain and self-centered director who has the bad habit of stealing credit from collaborators. In a rather acidic and often inaccurate text, Kael reduces Wellesian inspiration to the extreme Citizen Kane, considering the film to be a screenplay work by writer Herman Mankiewicz, with images obtained by the talent of photographer Gregg Toland.

In 1972, Peter Bogdanovich, in close contact with Welles, responded to Kael's version with the article The Kane Mutiny[v], where he reaffirms the director's authorial work in the film, detailing its stylistic dimension. In fact, Kael's influential article dialogues, in turn, with the American critic Andrew Sarris, who has a text, from 1956, about the film (Citizen Kane: The American Baroque[vi]). Sarris is, in the US, one of the main promoters of the “authors' policy”, then very much in vogue in France, which is treated with evident distaste by Kael in his critical activity.

She then seizes the moment (invitation to present the first publication of the Citizen Kane) to show that the film, which critics like to place at the top of the best of all time, is nothing more than the fortuitous conjunction of a school of screenwriters with the figure of a renowned photographer, having as background figure an upstart director and inexperienced.

In the 1980s, Robert Carringer's text Oedipus in Indianapolis, published alongside the original script of Pride em The Magnificent Ambersons – A Reconstruction[vii], provokes similar controversy. Carringer addresses the finishing difficulties of Pride as related to the representation, by the film, of a conflict effectively experienced by the director in his personal life. Welles, as systematically as unconsciously, would have undermined the possibilities of a film's conclusion (Pride) on which he stamped his own life story, a defining moment of his family romance.

In addition to the already mentioned refusal to play, as would be natural, the protagonist, Welles systematically impoverished the character of George Minafer in his adaptation of Both Tarkington's novel. This is due to the identification that, as a central trait of the director's personality, would bring the mother's jealousy and the lover's confrontation - in the film a childhood friend eternally in love with her (Eugene Morgan, played by Joseph Cotten). This impoverishment would have unbalanced the fictional universe, harming the consistency of the work.[viii].

To complete the self-destructive picture, on his trip to Brazil, still according to Carringer, Welles would not have left with RKO anyone who could effectively answer for his interests in the montage, still to be done. In fact, in his book, Carringer ends up presenting in a favorable manner the arguments that supported the studio's intervention in the finalization process and the subsequent mutilation of the work.[ix], showing a Welles with a self-destructive personality, entirely responsible for the progressive disaster of Pride.

This interpretation is questioned by a good part of the Wellesian community and by Jonathan Rosenbaum, in an October 1993 text published by the magazine Trafic[X], after noting “the extent to which American universities today side with Hollywood scholars against Welles”, accuses Carringer of “making an unconditional defense of RKO” by centering “his own analysis on an identification with Schaefer instead of Welles”[xi].

Rosenbaum makes a strong defense of Welles' way of working and approaches the incompleteness of his projects as a result of the narrow expectations of aesthetic creation limited by the mode of production of the big studios in the 1940s. the figure of Welles and his cinema. Welles emerges as the one who, of the great North American directors, remains the most distant from his own country. He is also the only one to whom classic Hollywood effectively closed its doors after handing over the keys to the city.

Se Citizen Kane is central to understanding the history of cinema in the 1940th century, there is no way to approach it without having on the horizon the strong personality of who sets the stylistic tone by coordinating the disparate elements that make up a filmic work. And to capture this personality we must think of the whole that constitutes the work of Orson Welles between 42/XNUMX. He is the authorial figure on which the uneven conditions of the production of his films revolve. In addition to the stylistic mark, he provides the rhythm of the litter through which the work is realized. In this personal dimension of his activity is also located what we call “completion” of the artistic work.

In a well-known essay on Leonardo Da Vinci, Freud states that, for Da Vinci, his identification with his father, absent in the first years of his life, was fatal: “he created the work and immediately stopped taking care of it, just as his father had done with you”[xii]. In Welles' family experience, as described above, we can find similarities with this situation of the father's progressive disinterest in the family and his eclipse in the face of the mother's lover.

The absence of the father and the presence of the lover compose a particular constellation of what Freud calls “family romance”, from which mechanical consequences cannot be defined. The fact is that, in addition to its difficulty in finalizing Pride and most of your movies[xiii], Welles establishes a strong dramatic nucleus in his first two feature films, where the father's absence and the strong presence of the maternal female figure are outlined, leaving an indelible shadow over the protagonist.

It is inevitable that we notice in Welles' work the difficulty that a strong personality who is centripetal in other matters finds in enabling the small details necessary to conclude something that was the result of years of personal mobilization. Welles is capable of real prowess in fast-paced shooting or in precarious production conditions, as demonstrated in Macbeth, The weird, The Mark of Evil, all films made in tight deadlines, or, in the case of othelo e Don Quixote, in almost amateur schemes, from which great aesthetic results are obtained with minimal resources. The question, therefore, is not in his capacity to articulate and organize the shooting, a stage in which, in general, talented directors tend to slip. Welles in this field is fast and agile[xiv].

The dramatic question for the author Orson Welles is the placement of the final point of the work. And this point, in the case of film production, is located in the editing stage. It is at this point that he seems to start to postpone the end and, spending deadlines that are disproportionate to the production scheme as a whole, he enters into conflict with the producers. It is the case of Pride e Macbeth where he meticulously constructs the abandonment of the film (which ends up being edited in his absence), or of The Lady of Shanghai e The Mark of Evil where he exceeds all deadlines and has the film ripped out of his hands. Of Welles' great films, only two did the director put an end to: Othello e Citizen Kane.

He himself recognizes this difficulty in an interview with Cahiers du Cinema in June 1958: “in the editing room I work very slowly, which always has the effect of triggering the wrath of the producers who snatch the film from my hands: I could work forever editing a film”[xv]. Working eternally (and endlessly) editing a film is Welles's dream, which fits in with his way of working on a constellation of projects in which he is involved simultaneously.

Cinematographic creation goes far beyond the elaboration of scripts involving, in a capital and even more authorial way (when this dimension is present, as in Welles), the so-called mise-en-scène and then the filmic articulation in the montage itself. From the conflict between two opposing trends (eternal montage and rapid succession of scripts) results in the fruitful and unfinished form of Wellesian production. Effectively, for the director, there seems to be no pleasure in finishing the work and looking at the finished artistic object, made independent of the creative ego. The inconclusion here is still a form of retention. His creative drive is not satisfied by separating the work as finished, but is realized in the tension of postponement.

It's All True, the Brazilian film by Welles, (so to speak) is a creation that must be analyzed within this framework. The artist's work as a young man (Welles arrives in Brazil at the age of 26), a fragment of a much larger project involving filming in Mexico (the Brazilian part is by far the most developed), was carried out after the director, having already finished Citizen Kane, had supervised – in late 1941, early 1942 – the production of Dread Journey (Journey into Fear) and directed to the Pride (The Magnificent Ambersons).

At that moment, he received an invitation to come to Brazil to make a film, within the so-called 'good neighbor policy' carried out by the American government of Franklin Roosevelt, frightened by the possible sympathies of Getulio Vargas towards the Axis countries in World War II . Welles, who had political ambitions at the time, leaves behind the production of Pride in the hands of Robert Wise, under the supervision of Jack Moss – the director's representative (through Mercury, co-producer of the film) at RKO – with the vague promise that the negatives would be sent to Brazil, along with a moviola, for the montage. Here we can see the young Welles' spurt of creation, which had already been seen, before the cinema, in his resounding success on Broadway and on the radio, when he directed and performed several plays and radio broadcasts simultaneously.

If we can lament the inability of Orson Welles to make his ideas viable and the large number of genius projects that the director constantly publicizes as aborted, we can equally enjoy the artist's undeniable talent in the incomplete works he left us. Like Da Vinci and so many others, Welles' work must be examined in constant tension with inconclusion and mutilation. Sometimes one has the impression of an artist who has created millennia behind which little quotations and ingenious fragments remain.

From this point of view, what is our surprise when we come across, in the last decade of the XNUMXth century, localized fragments of the Brazilian filming of It's All True. We see on the screen a Welles in the fullness of the creative talent of his youth, with fragments of a true unknown masterpiece, in his flashes. A diamond that comes to us in its raw state, from which we can still enjoy the strength of its presence and its potential. They are strong and unmistakable images that bear the mark of the artist and the person Orson Welles. And in these images, in addition to the other episodes my friend handsome e The History of Samba, we must highlight one of the highlights of Wellesian imagery: the sequence of Four Men on a Raft, held on a beach close to Fortaleza.

These images seem to be outlined in an extremely favorable way, the random conditions that make up the artist's inspiration in the creation of a privileged work. These conditions fully match the strongest vein of the Wellesian theme, bringing an act of epic bravery well to the director's liking. It is about the crossing of 2.500 km of sea, on top of a raft, by union leader Manuel Jacaré to claim the new labor rights opened by the Getulista state also for raft fishermen.

Jacaré departed from Praia de Iracema, close to Fortaleza, sailing to Guanabara Bay, arriving on November 15, 1941, where he and the other three crew members of the raft were received by Vargas, after having the raft transported in the open by the carioca population. His demands for retirement and labor rights for jangadeiros were accepted and enacted into law about a month after his arrival. Along with the success of unexpected dimensions came tragedy and great failure, represented by the traumatic death of Jacaré, drowned in the “hands” of Welles himself, during a banal shot of filmic reconstitution.[xvi].

All of this at a crucial and tense moment in Welles' life, bringing together his very agitated social/sexual life in Rio de Janeiro, simultaneously with the telephone dispute with RKO for control of the unfinished production he had left behind in Hollywood. Add to this the contrast between the context of Carnival and Rio's hype with the later isolation of the young Orson on a distant beach in northeastern Brazil, with Jacaré's death still on his mind.

During the filming in Ceará, where he remained isolated for more than a month, Welles had already completely lost control of his situation in Hollywood with Schaefer's dismissal. He was away from the world, surrounded by a small film crew, immersed in a fishing village. It is here that Welles's talent for filming in precarious conditions is once again evidenced. And it is in this situation of complete isolation and almost immersion in Jacaré's universe that he takes some of the most beautiful images of his career.

There is also outlined an unusual framework for artistic cinematographic production at the time. This is 1942, when filmmaking was almost entirely done in studios or in restricted and controlled locations. In other words, we can say that the potentiality, unique to the camera-image, of opening up to the world in its indeterminacy, was basically worked on within conditions that are the conditions of cinematographic shooting in the studio.

What Welles develops in Fortaleza are images obtained from close contact with the local community, entirely inserted and determined by everyday life, the landscape and the local human types. Experience that Welles will not repeat in his career, although we can find parallels in othelo, as well as, differently, in Don Quixote.

Let's say that, with Flaherty as a distant parameter (the context here is entirely different), Welles' Brazilian work emerges as a forerunner of the neo-realist proposals that would emerge three years later in Italy. Kinship that must be seen in its differential axis, but that has similarity in the form of production and in the narrative construction: romanticized story, based on a real fact with shots taken in the community itself, inflected by the construction of the verisimilitude of the action in a fictional universe. In other words, seasoning the weight of the world in fictional construction, a seasoning that Italian neo-realism, which would erupt soon after in the post-war period, would delineate in all its dimensions for cinema. There is an attraction of the Wellesian image for the aesthetic potential arising from the raw everyday matter in its happening, which is located in a completely different pitch from the filmic field of the Hollywood universe in the 1940s.

The fictional elaboration is centered by Welles on the fact that originally gave rise to the 'docudrama' as an extraordinary event (in this case, the adventure of Jacaré). We must remember the ambitions of a certain neo-realism (the favorite of French critics) to portray everyday banality as a 'parallelepipede of the real' and Zavattini's dream of making a continuous 90-minute film, based on the life of a man in that nothing happens. This cut, which seeks to capture the empty rhythm of life in a fishing village through style, is absent from the film by the American director. But it is also true that the extraordinary, starting with the works of Rosselini, always ended up having a particular dimension in Italian cinema.

In the case of Welles, the director worked from a true event, experienced as an odyssey by the Brazilian population and media. Watching documentaries from newsreels at the time, we have the impression that the arrival of the jangadeiro Jacaré from Fortaleza to Rio on a raft, and his reception in the former capital, was a bit like the crossing of the Atlantic by Amyr Klynck.

It is undoubtedly the epic aspect of the adventure that immediately attracts the young Welles when, still in the USA, he has contact, through a report in the magazine Times, with the feat of the jangadeiros. Arriving in Brazil, he will imagine another motivation in the narrative in order to constellate the epic action from the dramatic tradition of cinematographic classicism. He introduces the death of a raft boatman who leaves a young widow helpless in the script as a complementary motivation to Jacaré's action. In fiction, the love story between the fishing couple and the subsequent widowhood ends up becoming the central dramatic core, motivating the epic fictional action (the journey across the sea).

It is the precocious widowhood and the helplessness that it generates that would crystallize the political conscience of the jangadeiro leader and the community, provoking his trip to Rio de Janeiro. The form of production and taking of the filmic image, entirely immersed in the concrete life of the jangadeiro fishermen of Ceará, is, therefore, the great innovation of stylistics of Four Men on a Raft in the cinematographic panorama of the 1940s. This innovation crystallizes, in its own way, something that was already in the air and which would later be realized by Italian neo-realism. On the canvas, what appears is the world of the small village with the wide horizon of sea and sand, the rawness and indetermination of these forms in image. In these shots, opposition is made to the scenarios stylized in genre by North American studios, current scenarios in the cinematographic universe from which Welles was arriving.

This is the picture of classical cinema dominant in the first half of 1942, a period – from the beginning of February (he arrives just before Carnival, with a large crew, to film it) to the end of July – in which Welles remains in Brazil. With this parameter in the background we can have a more precise dimension of the radical novelty that these images mean and the reaction they provoked in Hollywood studios. The difference between Welles's style and the Italian production (which is also not uniform) is, however, radical, and a close view of Four Men on a Raft, further emphasizes the dimension of distance.

Welles has, as a central feature of his style, frames accentuated with the contrasting geometric exploration of volumes and masses in movement, at different levels of depth. Contradictory as it may seem, if we wanted to draw a benchmark, we should have the Soviet director Serguei Eisenstein on the horizon, in particular in his unfinished work, also never mounted and filmed in similar conditions: Que Viva Mexico! It is interesting to note how Welles' framing of shots Four Men on a Raft are outlined in proximity to those of the Russian director, despite the intense exploration of depth of field that differentiates them.

Even though both films were not edited by their directors, Welles has a smoother style in the transition between shots, unlike Eisenstein who has a more syncopated and absolute imagery in the frames. In reality, Eisenstein's marked angles, the deforming geometric exploration of volumes and shapes through framing, finds a convincing echo in the young American director's film.[xvii].

We can find in the Russian filmmaker the most accentuated rigor in the composition of the frame, worked in Que Viva Mexico! (Eisenstein's stay in Mexico took place between the end of 1930 and 1932) from rigidly symmetrical structures, developed around trinary compositions of shapes and volumes. Welles is, in this sense, looser, with great attraction for depth effects and marked angles. Que Viva Mexico! it is also the film of a talented young director, with many simultaneous projects in mind, far from his country in a strange native environment and dealing with serious production problems.

Both are, the shots show, clearly dazzled by the imagery potential of light and the unique shapes in their relief that the foreign reality and their everyday world happening outside the studios offers their eyes and camera. Cinema technology in the 1930s/1940s was cumbersome and cumbersome, requiring the studio's controlled environmental conditions. The shock with the shooting in the open world and the presence of a universe with an exotic culture (in the sense of being radically different) surrounding it, intensely marks these images and the career of both.

Welles' style poetizes reality. His attraction for low camera and depth of field, explored in contrast to disconcerting close-ups, dilates the forms of the raw material of the sand, the sea, the raft and the raft. the plans of Four Men on a Raft are short and, as far as we can see, should not be explored through long sequence shots such as those that characterize Pride. The style with quick decoupage and short shots seems to be the director's adaptation to the effective (and precarious) conditions of the shots, procedures that, according to his own testimony, he would repeat in othelo.

Also in othelo we find, in the sequence of the burial, repeated framing and arrangement of the volumes that we found in one of the high moments of Four Men on a Raft: the burial of the jangadeiro. The long line formed by the inhabitants of the village winds through the dunes in depth, with strong clippings in the foreground. The marked arrangement of the volumes and the low camera allow for a contrast in the framing with the opening of the horizon in the infinite background of the sky. Welles' style interacts here with the presence of the dazzling nature that surrounds him, in which the director is immersed and isolated from the urban world of advanced capitalism from which he comes, manipulating this nature in a cinematic way in an unmistakable way.

It is impossible not to remember, at the burial of the jangadeiro leader, the funeral scene of the sailor leader in The Battleship Potemkin, with the queue of people coming to pay homage to the martyr. A memory that, as already highlighted, must be nuanced by the presence of evidently different styles. Welles himself insists on denying any influence from Eisenstein, perhaps sensing his proximity. It is not impossible to assume that he had access to this and perhaps other films by the Russian director when, before Citizen Kane was made, he saw a series of works seeking to acquire cinematographic culture.[xviii].

It is difficult to accept, knowing the director's restless personality and universalist culture, that he was not moved by curiosity to watch The Battleship Potemkin. Liar Welles, however, denies any influence. To a question on the subject, he initially answers “having never seen an Eisenstein film”, and then makes an exception for Ivan the Terrible, a film he reportedly “violently attacked in an American newspaper”, followed by an extensive exchange of correspondence with the Russian director who had read the review. A little further on, however, he states that, at the time of the making of Citizen Kane, “besides John Ford, he admired Eisenstein – but not the other Russians – Griffith, Chaplin, Clair and Pagnol”[xx]. How to admire without knowing?

The closeness to Eisenstein is also felt in the framing that explores the intensity of expressions, generally simple and spontaneous, of ordinary people. We have a privileged moment of Four Men on a Raft in the sequence of fishermen's faces filmed on the beach in low camera, with the infinite horizon of the sky in the background. A sequence that manages to capture, in a particularly sensitive way, the strong expressions of the raft man and woman from the Northeast, tanned in the salt and sun of the equator. One cannot help but remember, again, the overflowing expression of the Russian people, or the physiognomy of the Mexican peasant face in Que Viva Mexico!, photographed within a similar framing and expressive intensity. Let's say that Welles obtains, in close proximity to the faces of the Brazilian jangadeiros, a more lyrical and less loaded expression, less marked as intention, than those of the Russian and Mexican people seen by Eisenstein.

What is new here is that an American director, with the stamp of Hollywood, in the early 40s, captures the popular physiognomy in such a way and with such intensity. The singularity of Welles' career and talent in working with human expression as an image is evident, especially when the conformation of this expression does not have the work of an actor behind it. The choice of Francisca Moreira da Silva, a young inhabitant of the village, to play the role of the widow, confirms this intuition that is typical of great directors.

The girl, through Welles' precise direction, is explored in such a way as to manage to constellate expressions that, in the field of interpretation, would involve a refined work. The particularity of the cinematographic image, in its filmic form, of signifying interpretation without the actor's work, inflected by the filmmaker's direction, is precisely illustrated here. A potentiality in which Eisenstein also proves to be a master, with a well-known mastery in his first films, and which Italian neo-realism will explore in a peculiar way.[xx].

It's All True: Based on an Unfinished Film by Orson Welles (1993), a film directed by Richard Wilson, Bill Krohn and Myron Meisel, is the work that showed these images, still unpublished as a whole, at the end of the 1940th century. It brings what was left of the three episodes planned by RKO in coordination with the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs (OCIAA), under the auspices of Nelson Rockefeller, within the 'good neighbor' war policy that the Americans imposed on Vargas in the early 1980s. The images were retrieved in the XNUMXs by Wilson, who was part of Welles's original team in Brazil. The Mexican episode (filmed by Norman Foster with Welles supervising) was titled my friend handsome and the brazilians Carnival ( The History of Samba, which originally evolved from a history of jazz) to rafts ( Four Men and a Raft).

The team arrived in Brazil during the 1942 Carnival with Welles at its helm and was large and imposing. It caused a strong repercussion in Rio de Janeiro and Brazilian society at the time, dazzled, as always, by Hollywood and its stars. In the newspapers, the arrival of great actors is anticipated and there is some disappointment with the arrival of a complete technical team, but without the stars in the sky. Powerful equipment and reflectors are also brought for filming in color (difficult and expensive technology at the time).

Carnival groups mobilized, filming was made that paralyzed famous dances during the Momo celebrations and large production schemes stopped Rio de Janeiro, as can be seen in the headlines of the printed and audiovisual media at the time. The noise continues with the displacement of Welles and his team (now smaller) to Ceará. Richard Wilson's documentary about this period in Welles's life, despite the stunning footage of Welles realistically filming fishermen in a small village, is not as successful on the whole. The script for the presentation of the fragments, despite deserving full credit for the important recovery work, is not always up to par with the original material available.

This is evident mainly in the taking of testimonies, in the “Globo Repórter” style, of the Brazilian descendants and witnesses who survived the Wellesian adventure. Perhaps overly influenced by the euphoria of the Rio press office with the project in the 1990s, they collect empty testimonies that reflect a certain third-world fascination with the Hollywood gods who ventured into these faraway countries. The film's explicit engagement in favor of the legend of Welles oppressed by the giants of Hollywood ends up generating an inverse effect, seeming a bit Manichean.

Grande Otelo personifies, in his statement, this wonder, despite being aware of the sincere admiration for the American director who marked his career (Welles, who considers him one of the greatest actors he has directed, ends up never fulfilling the promise, made on this trip, to call him again to act). Peri Ribeiro, in his exaltation of Brazilianness, discovered and intuited by the incredible “Orson”, reaches the borders of ridicule and caipirice. But it's worth the wait. the plans of my friend handsome, made in Mexico, are few and allow a glimpse of the imagery of the raft adventure as an appetizer.

As for the plans taken during the carioca carnival, for what the episode would be The History of Samba, do not seem to be so well resolved. The information we have is that Welles was rarely present, preferring to take refuge in the hotel. The much-commented images taken in favelas that would have provoked the wrath of Brazilian censors are also absent, perhaps because they were lost or never existed. What is reality (or seems to be true) is that the filming of the Brazilian miscegenated carnival caused discomfort in Los Angeles, in the same way that there was resistance on the part of high echelons of the Vargas government to the freer shots actually made by Welles.

The arrival of the team, preceded by Walt Disney himself (and 'Zé Carioca') in 1941, shows the investment of the US state policy to bring Brazil as an ally in the war, using the cinematographic cultural medium for this purpose. Passed by Osvaldo Aranha, Chancellor Vargas contrary to the Axis, the final script by Welles[xxx]. The images of the carnival lack the organic construction that emerges with the empathy and extraordinary definition of the Northeast episode, even though this episode is not edited by the artist. As the director himself testifies in Wilson's documentary, “filming the carnival is like trying to capture a hurricane”. What is felt in these shots is that, newly arrived in Brazil, Welles had not yet managed to place himself in the eye of the hurricane by articulating his style in a productive imagery axis.

It's All True: Based on an Unfinished Film by Orson Welles it is divided into two parts. At first, a trivia film emerges, filled with interesting archival footage and not so much statements. Suddenly, in black and white, the sign Four Men on a Raft. From there, and for almost an hour, we have the flow of images that constitute a high point of cinematographic art. Images that were lost for a long time and that, moreover, are particularly close to us.

Images that bring together what would be the core of the dilemmas of Brazilian cinema in the following decades: the specificity of Brazilianness as a figure of the popular in the constitution of cinematographic imagery and the form of production through which this specificity can be expressed. We have, therefore, here a masterpiece, a small rough pearl never polished, and which, by crooked paths, falls into our lap, particularly concerning the history and image of Brazilian cinema.

Unfinished masterpiece, no doubt, but Welles himself is one of those authors who have in the unfinished work an inherent feature of his artistic production. A work, therefore, which in its current form, and precisely in this dimension, should occupy the prominent place it deserves in Welles' filmography and in the history of cinema.

*Fernão Pessoa Ramos, sociologist, is a professor at the Institute of Arts at UNICAMP. Author, among other books, of But after all… what exactly is a documentary? (Senac-SP).

Revised edition of article originally published in New Cebrap Studies, no. 42, July 1995.


1 Mulvey Laura. Citizen Kane. London, BFI Publishing, 1992. Carringer Robert. The Magnificent Ambersons – A Reconstruction. Berkeley, Univ. of California Press, 1993. Bazin, André. Orson Welles. Paris, Cerf, 1972 (1a. 1950 edition).

[ii] Bazin's book, much earlier than the others, works with biographical data that correspond to the myth of a happy childhood, of a child prodigy, which Welles divulges to journalists in repeated interviews. Bazin's sensibility, however, senses the conflict between happy biography and films: “Kane's desire for social power, George Minafer's pride, have roots in their childhood, or rather in Welles'. We have seen, however, that it was, par excellence, a happy childhood, but perhaps, paradoxically, unfinished by its own happiness. Too many fairies have bent over this cradle (…)”. Carringer and Mulvey work with more accurate biographical data.

[iii] A trait initially addressed by Charles Higham in 1970 with the publication of The Films of Orson Welles (Berkeley, Univ. of California Press, 1970), and elaborated on in his 1985 biography (called “defamatory” by Jonathan Rosenbaum), Orson Welles: The Rise and Fall of an American Genius (NY, St. Martin's Press, 1985). In the same year, the “authorized” biography of Welles by Barbara Leaming, already translated in Brazil (Orson Welles, a biography. Porto Alegre, L&PM Editores, 1987).

[iv]. Article first published in THE NEW YORKER, 20/2/1971, p. 43-89 and 27/2/1971 p. 44-81. It is then edited as an introduction to editing the screenplay of Citizen Kane in Kael, Pauline. The Citizen Kane Book. Boston, Little Brown, 1971.

[v] Bogdanovich, Peter. The Kane Mutiny. ESQUIRE Magazine, 1972. Also in Gottesman, Ronald (ed.). Focus on Orson Welles. NJ, Prentice Hall Inc., 1976.

[vi] Sarris, Andrew. Citizen Kane: The American Baroque. FILM CULTURE 2, 1956.

[vii] Op. cit. Robert Carringer is also the author of the influential Raising Kane (London, John Murray, 1985), where he details – far more seriously and precisely than Kael – Welles' actual work on Citizen Kane.

[viii] Indeed, Welles's George Minafer is a very Manichaean character, played by an actor, Tim Holt, who leaves something to be desired (especially compared to Welles' potential for the role). The frustrated previews of the film with the general public would be proof of a script that suffers from the emptying of one of the dramatic poles.

[ix] The film was edited, in a first version, based on the detailed instructions left by the director before leaving for Brazil, with a length of 131'45”. After some extremely negative previews, it underwent a refit, having been reduced to 88'45”. These cuts took place in the absence of Welles who, in desperation, through long phone calls and telegrams from Brazil, tried to coordinate the work carried out by editor (and later director) Robert Wise. The original version of the film has been lost.

[X] Rosenbaum, Jonathan. Orson Welles aux États-Unis: un échange. TRAFIC no 12, autumn 1994.

[xi] Op. cit. page 46/47. Gerge Schaefer is the president of RKO in the early 40s and responsible for Welles' move to Hollywood. During the director's stay in Brazil, Schaefer leaves the studio.

[xii] Freud, Sigmund. A childhood memory of Leonardo De Vinci, In: Complete works; volume II. Madrid, Biblioteca Nueva, 1981, p. 1610.

[xiii] In addition to the works that suffered finalization problems in the montage of images or in the soundtrack (in the case of Macbeth), we have as inconclusive, after years or months of filming, It's All True, Don Quichote, The Other Side The Wind e The Deep. Several projects are announced and successively aborted after being worked on in detail in a script (The Cradle Will Rock, Heart of Darkness, The Way to Santiago, The Big Brass Ring, between others).

[xiv] There are the exceptions, like the problematic footage of The Lady of Shanghai e Fetters of the Past, but which confirm the rule because they result from precise reasons.

[xv]. Entretien avec Orson Welles. André Bazin and Charles Bitsch. CAHIERS DU CINÉMA 84, June 1958.

[xvi]. History has always been ironic with Welles. Alligator (Manuel Olímpio Meira) a raft leader who spent his life at sea, traveled thousands of kilometers in the open sea, from Ceará to Rio de Janeiro, only to tragically drown in waters close to Guanabara Bay, in Barra da Tijuca , during the reconstruction of his crossing, commanded by the director who was trying to film his feat. The raft was linked by an iron to a boat that was towing it in the footage and the cable apparently broke, with the raft sinking. Despite being an excellent swimmer, according to witnesses, Jacaré sank and never returned. His body was never located, giving space to conspiratorial versions.

[xvii] Echo this one that, in othelo, can also be felt with intensity, in the various shots in outdoor locations.

[xviii]. There is the well-known story that, preparing Citizen Kane, would have seen more than forty times In the Time of Due Diligence by John Ford. In an interview, Welles confirms this number by saying he was looking for “not someone who had something to say”, but someone who “showed me how to say what I had to say”.

[xx]. Interview conducted by André Bazin, Charles Bitsch and Jean Domarchi in 1958 and published in Bazin, André. Orson Welles. Paris, Cerf, 1972, pg 181/183.

[xx]. Still Welles, about Rossellini: “I've seen all his films: he's an amateur. Rossellini's films simply prove that Italians are born actors and that in Italy it is enough to have a camera and put people in front of it to make people believe that we are directors”. In: Bazin, André. op.cit. p. 183.

[xxx] The definitive work on Welles' tumultuous passage in Brazil, with historical details of the different stages, scripts, lost and recovered images from It's all true, was written by Catherine Benamour, an old connoisseur of Brazilian cinema and Welles' work, based on her doctoral thesis at NYU (Benamou, Catherine. It's All True. Orson Welle's Pan-American Odyssey. Los Angeles, University of California Press, 2007). In Brazil, Rogério Sganzerla dedicated a good part of the last phase of his career to the mysteries of Welles in Brazil, including the always suspicious death of Jacaré, having directed, among other initiatives, two feature films on the subject, Not Everything Is True (1986), which features composer Arrigo Barnabé in the role of Welles, and Everything is Brazil (1997). On Welles in Ceará see also Holanda, Firmino. Orson Welles in Ceará. Fortaleza, Edições Democrito Rocha, 2001.

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