The Hearts of Age: Orson Welles’ Surrealist First Film (1934)

The story is legendary. When Orson Welles shot Citizen Kane (1941), he was a first-time filmmaker who created what Roger Ebert has called “one of the miracles of cinema.” And, years later, Welles admitted that perhaps youthful ignorance, being a complete novice, was the genius of the film.

I didn’t know what you couldn’t do. I didn’t deliberately set out to invent anything. It just seemed to me, why not? And there is a great gift that ignorance has to bring to anything. That was the gift I brought to Kane, ignorance. [See him elaborate on that here.]

If you want to get technical about things, Kane wasn’t Orson Welles’ first film. Back in the summer of 1934, Welles, only 19 years old, joined up with William Vance, a high school friend, and shot The Hearts of Age. It ran eight short minutes and featured four cast members: Welles, Vance, Virginia Nicholson (Welles’ girlfriend and eventual first wife) and Paul Edgerton. Meanwhile, the plot was surreal, cryptic, hard to follow — all for a good reason. In an interview with Peter Bogdanovich, Welles claimed that The Hearts of Age was nothing but a parody of Jean Cocteau’s first film, The Blood of a Poet (1930). It was also a “joke,” a film “shot in two hours, for fun, one Sunday afternoon. It has no sort of meaning.” Senses of Cinema has more on Welles’ first foray (or non-foray) into filmmaking. You can find it permanently listed in our collection of Free Movies Online, along with other movies created by or starring the great Orson Welles.

Related Content:

Orson Welles Narrates Plato’s Cave Allegory, Kafka’s Parable, and Freedom River

Orson Welles’ The Stranger: The Full Movie

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  • I’m anything but an authority on surrealism, but suddenly it occurs to me that much of it deals either directly or indirectly with death. (That would seem to be a natural preoccupation, given that the movement was likely a natural outgrowth of the despair and disillusionment that swept Europe after World War I.) And death seems central to this film, as nearly unwatchable as it happens to be. Then, too, all the visuals about bells recalls Donne’s “Therefore, send not to know/For whom the bell tolls,/It tolls for thee.” So Welles claims it has no meaning? What he really means is that its meaning is too obvious, too juvenile, to admit.

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