Orson Welles, an actor, director, writer and producer who is arguably best known for his innovative work in radio, theatre and film, is regarded by many as one of the greatest film directors of all time.
While his radio fame began in 1938, Welles major breakthrough came he co-wrote, produced, directed and starred in his 1941 film Citizen Kane, a film which is consistently labelled as the greatest film of all time by many.
However, seven years prior to the formation of Welles’ first major feature film, he and his close friend William Vance shot their fun project The Hearts of Age, a project which takes the spot as Welles’ first film.
“It’s nothing at all. Absolutely nothing. It was a joke. I wanted to make a parody of Jean Cocteau’s first film. That’s all. We shot it in two hours, for fun, one Sunday afternoon. It has no sort of meaning.”—Orson Welles
Filming on the location of their former high school, the Todd School in Woodstock, Illinois where Welles had graduated three years prior, he and Vance made their furore into cinema.
After graduating, Welles rejected the opportunity to attend Harvard University on a scholarship and instead headed over to Ireland on a sketching tour before travelling through London, Paris, the Ivory Coast, Morocco and Seville while writing detective stories for pulp magazines. Upon arriving back in Woodstock, with the intention of sponsoring a theatre festival at his old school, Welles and Vance borrowed a camera from their old principal and shot their first film.
The eight-minute short, which stars Welles’s first wife, Virginia Nicolson, and Welles himself, tells the story of an elderly woman sits on a bell as it rocks back and forth, while a servant in blackface pulls at a rope before a gentleman is introduced and the story takes a dark turn.
However, Welles never considered the film to be a serious piece of work and, in later years, acknowledged that the film was an imitation of the early surrealist films of Luis Bunuel and Jean Cocteau. Many considered the film to be lost in history until it emerged in later years that Vance had kept the original copy, eventually donated it to the Greenwich Public Library.