Orson Welles made his first short film, Hearts of Age when he was just 19 years old. Not only is it formally accomplished, it is actually a parody of an avant-garde film, cementing Welles’ status as the most precocious American teen ever. Up for debate (and lost to the ages) is what Welles intended by the eerie depiction of a character in blackface. There is little written on the subject, but years later, interviewed about the film by Peter Bogdanovich, “Welles dismissed The Hearts of Age as hopeless juvenilia, never intended for exhibition.” Welles continued, “It was a joke. I wanted to make a parody of Jean Cocteau’s first film [The Blood of a Poet, 1930]. That’s all. We shot it in two hours, for fun, one Sunday afternoon. It has no sort of meaning.”
Just 7 years later, Welles would direct, star in and produce, Citizen Kane at 26, but in the interim he made Too Much Johnson, a comedy starring Joseph Cotten, Mary Wickes, and Arlene Francis. The film was thought lost for decades, but was recently rediscovered in a shipping warehouse in Pordenone, Italy. The film will be screened on October 16 at the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York. Until then, take a look at 16 still frames from Too Much Johnson and the delightfully bizarre Hearts of Age in its entirety and revel in the talent of a remarkably gifted teen prodigy.