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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