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A colonial scene in the U.S. An old lady sits astride a bell while a man in blackface, wig, and livery pulls the bell rope. From an upper door emerges an old man, dressed as a dandy, who tips his hat to the woman as he walks down stairs grinning. Others leave the same door and walk down the same stairs: a shabby man, a cop, and, several times, the same dandy. The man in blackface hangs himself; the dandy continues to smile. A bell tolls, a grave beckons. In the dark, the dandy plays the piano. Is he Death? Written by
At the tender young age of 19, we shouldn't judge Orson Welles too harshly. Afterall, this is the first film of one of cinema's greatest directors, and the precursor to undeniably one of the greatest movies of all time ('Citizen Kane' would be released 7 years later to extraordinary critical acclaim). 'The Hearts of Age,' an eight minute short, was co-directed by Welles with William Vance (whose only other film credit is a 1932 adaptation of 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde), and also stars Welles' first wife, Virginia Nicholson.
This silent film, essentially a string of images loosely tied together, was almost certainly inspired by surrealistic classics such as Luis Buñuel's 'Un chien andalou (An Andalusian Dog, 1929)' and 'L' Âge d'or (The Golden Age, 1930),' and Jean Cocteau's 'Le Sang d'un poète (The Blood of a Poet, 1930).' Whether Welles and Vance where attempting to imitate this surrealism, or merely to satirize it, I was unable to deduce, though the final effect is adequately frightening and disconcerting.
For such a film, comprised of split-second flashes of seemingly random objects, it is difficult to judge performances. However, I can safely assert that Welles' is the standout, even if his performance is far from spectacular. Despite his face being obscured by his "Death" mask, Welles unquestionably radiates at least a small portion of the charisma that would lead him to stardom later in life; his confident almost arrogant swagger is unmistakable.
If somebody other than Orson Welles had created this film, would we be taking any notice of it? Probably not. However, the very fact that that it is the debut directorial effort of one of the twentieth century's most respected entertainers makes it a fascinating historical curiosity, and, therefore, must-see viewing. Would I declare that 'The Hearts of Age' so poignantly predicts greater things for this young Mr. Welles? Maybe... but probably not.
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