The Hearts of Age (1934)

theheartsofage1

*. Orson Welles is one of the very few names in the history of film who I would describe as a genius. He seemed to naturally, instinctually, understand every aspect of film: writing, acting, photography, editing, lighting . . . and how they all come together.
*. So this youthful effort, made when he was just 19, is worth at least some attention. After all, Citizen Kane was up next.
*. It’s too short (eight minutes) and frantic to be easily interpreted. We wonder why Welles’s Old Man character seems to get so angry, but I can’t think of any good answer.
*. Mostly it seems to have been meant as a joke: a tale told not by an idiot but by some wandering senior half possessed by death, a story without any point that doesn’t go anywhere.
*. That sense of motion without progress is reinforced throughout. When we first see the lady it seems as though she’s riding a horse, but when we pull back it’s revealed she’s seated on a bell swinging back and forth. A globe spins. A man descends the same staircase over and over. Everyone is moving in place.
*. It’s also a joke on surrealism, the cinema of Buñuel and Cocteau. There’s almost no narrative but only a collection of images, not all of them related. It might be a dream, or a nightmare.
*. Is it a horror film? Well, there are tombstones and a hanged man with his tongue lolling out. The character played by Welles may be Death. Or Mephisto. Either way he’s the director, the one calling the shots. Even as a teenager it was the role Welles had to play. And as an old, bald man does he not look a bit like Charles Foster Kane?
*. There’s no need to look into it too deeply. It’s a bag of tricks: just a kid experimenting with the medium, seeing what could be done, what worked. Finger exercises, but the finger exercises of genius.

theheartsofage2

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