Daily Archives: October 22, 1993

It’s All True: Based on an Unfinished Film by Orson Welles

A two-part film. The first part is an exemplary, scrupulously researched documentary about the making and unmaking of Orson Welles’s 1942 Latin American documentary feature It’s All True — a project doomed by a change of studio heads at RKO, but also by its radical politics: Welles’s problack stance and his focus on the poorest sectors of Brazilian life upset RKO and the Brazilian dictatorship alike. (His career never fully recovered from the ensuing studio propaganda, and this film represents the first major effort after half a century of obfuscation to set the record straight.) The second part is a simple editing together of the rushes of “Four Men on a Raft,” the most ambitious (though least well-known) of the film’s projected three sections, and the only one whose footage has survived nearly in its entirety. It’s the true story of four courageous Fortaleza fishermen who sailed more than 1,600 miles to Rio to protest their economic exploitation by the men who owned their fishing rafts, beautifully shot in black and white by George Fanto. Welles had intended to narrate the section himself, but the writers and directors of this documentary — the late Richard Wilson, who worked on the original film, and critics Bill Krohn and Myron Meisel — have wisely opted not to second-guess Welles, simply presenting the material as it stands and adding music and sound effects. Read more

China, My Sorrow

The Chinese title of Dai Sijie’s semiautobiographical 1989 feature, filmed in the French Pyrenees with a nonprofessional cast of Chinese and Vietnamese emigres, means “bull sheds,” or rehabilitation centers. In a small town in China in 1966, at the onset of the Cultural Revolution, a 13-year-old boy momentarily disrupts the local propaganda by playing a pop record–actually a love song from the classic 1937 Shanghai film Street Angels–as a way of flirting with a girl in the courtyard below, and as a consequence is sent to a remote labor camp in the Mountains of Eternal Life. Dai Sijie, trained as a filmmaker in France, makes the most of his spectacular settings and extracts from this story not so much a grim survival tale as a nostalgic and poetic idyll about childhood freedom–a sort of Chinese Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in which a monk on the mountainside taking a vow of silence plays the nurturing and sacrificial role of Jim. Hampered at times by awkward performances and clumsy English subtitles, this is still a worthy companion to The Blue Kite and Farewell My Concubine as a contemporary reassessment of the Cultural Revolution, with an evocative and haunting lyricism all its own. Winner of the Prix Jean Vigo. Read more