Photo by Tom Taylor

Orson's First Film?

Most people know that Orson Welles’ first film was Citizen Kane, made in 1941. However, if you do a little digging into his history, you might find some filmographies that list a 1934 project called The Hearts of Age as the first item on his resume. (IMDB lists it, for example) It’s also turned up on a couple of DVD anthologies as if it were a serious entry in the history of avant garde filmmaking. But to call this short piece his first film would be like including a high school essay in the bibliography of a great author. It’s an exercise in filmmaking that 19 year old Orson engaged in with a group of friends, including his future first wife. It’s a student film made with crude equipment from the era and was quite likely never intended to be widely shown.

The project was forgotten and presumably lost for decades and when it resurfaced in the 1960s, Welles himself dismissed it as something of no significance. Indeed, how much of it was his work and how much credit can be given to his high school friend William Vance we’ll never know. Welles said that they were spoofing the work of Jean Cocteau, though it could also be seen as an amateur homage to German expressionism, Eisenstein, and the works of Buñuel.

At best, it’s an amusing curiosity for diehard Welles aficionados. I personally find efforts to draw parallels to the themes and visual style of his later, legitimate films to be strained. Yes, Welles was a prodigy already deeply immersed in theatre at this early age and certainly had a lot more talent than most nineteen year olds, so it is possible to convince oneself that there is evidence of a nascent auteur at work here. But one still gets the sense that no one was taking themselves all that seriously when they were making this. What is amazing about watching The Hearts of Age is the realization afterwards that one of the creators of this piece went on to make arguably the greatest film of all time a mere six years later.

A more positive assessment of the film and a more detailed history of its making can be found here.

(By the way, it's not really clear in the image above, but that is the actual film, embedded into this post. Click on the image and it should give you the option to play it.)

posted by Jim Chadwick @ 11:19 PM,


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Jim Chadwick is a native New Yorker who has been living in southern California for the past 20 years. Jim has worked in comic books, publishing, toys and video games for way longer than he'd care to admit. That's because he is way older than he would like to be.

Jim is an editor for DC Comics, working out of the company's west coast office in Burbank, California. But if you came here looking for industry dirt, forget it. I like my job and I'd like to keep it. While I may sometimes talk about comics, this is mostly dedicated to my other interests.

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