The legend of 1900 (1998)
Shortly after the Second World War, Max visits an English pawn shop to sell his trumpet. The shopkeeper recognizes the tune Max plays as one on a wax master of an unreleased recording, discovered and restored from shards found in a piano salvaged from a cruise ship turned hospital ship, now slated for demolition. This chance discovery prompts a story from Max, which he relates both to the shopkeeper and later to the official responsible for the doomed vessel, for Max is a born storyteller. He was befriended by another young man, the pianist in the same band, whose long unlikely name was Danny Boodman T.D. Lemons 1900, though everyone just called him 1900, the year of his birth.
Genre : Drama/Music/Romance
Country : Italy
Tim Roth : 1900
Pruitt Taylor Vince : Max Tooney
Bill Nunn : Danny Boodmann
Alternative title : La leggenda del pianista sull’oceano
“You’re never really done for, as long as you’ve got a good story and someone to tell it to.”
There are some films that, despite having such a miserable long playing time, won’t bore you quickly. However, there are films which have a regular playing time and still bore you to death. In the first category I include “The Lord of the Rings“, “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “The Shawshank Redemption“. You can add “The Legend of 1900” or “La leggenda del pianista sull’oceano“, which takes about 165 minutes, to this list, because this is a breathtaking and fascinating masterpiece. A musical journey told in the form of a fairy tale, that grabs you by the throat in the beginning and releases you when the end credits start. I’m not really a jazz enthusiast or a piano recitals specialist, but it aroused my musical curiosity. Sometimes it feels as if you are getting musical education and you’re actually continuously looking at some virtuosic piano playing like in “Grand Piano“. There is however a big difference with the latter. And that’s the fact that you stay intrigued and want to watch further so you can see how it unfolds. And you don’t need toothpicks so your eyes stay open. It’s not a recent film, but there was somebody who was praising this movie on some webpage and I had to see it.
The whole story is told from the perspective of Max Tooney (Pruitt Taylor Vince) who played brass trumpet along with a legendary pianist in an orchestra on a cruiseship called “The Virginian”. This legendary pianist once was abandoned by some poor immigrants and was left to be found in the class of the wealthier passengers, probably to ensure his future, but was eventually discovered and adopted by Danny Boodmann (Bill Nunn), a coal-man in the engine room. The young boy was named Danny Boodmann T.D. Lemon Nineteen Hundred. Or just plain simply 1900, his year of birth. To avoid problems with certain instances 1900 lived deep in the hull of the cruise ship, until the day Danny died. Then he suddenly disappears. Until he reappears one night, sitting behind a piano and playing it in a wonderful way. He’ll become the most virtuoso fabulous pianist in the world who doesn’t have the courage to set foot on shore.
Tim Roth, who I recently saw starring in “Broken” and also has an impressive resume on his name, takes care of the lead role as the adult 1900. I think he’s a wonderful actor who just has an innate calmness, interspersed with a truly sad, melancholic posture and gaze. The childish amazement about everyday things and the otherworldliness are expressed by him in a simple, unaffected way. He seems like a humble, timid and kind person, until he uses a heartfelt “asshole”. A pianist who uses his emotions and the observed characteristics of people in his piano playing and only lives for his music. During a recording that was made by a music company, which would make him world famous and very rich, you can hear the tone and atmosphere of his piano performance slowly turn into a very intimate timbres merely by the appearance of a lovely lady. Even the deep philosophical reasoning in the end sounded acceptable, although 1900 didn’t enjoy academic education. He gave a simplistic though rational explication about his state of mind and fear of the unknown.
Pruitt Taylor Vince takes on the role of Max, the lone musician who is forced to sell his instrument. He wasn’t really known to me. When I read his biography, he seemed to have made quite a furore in the years 80-90. He has won an Emmy for his role in “Murder One: Diary of a Serial Killer” and starred in “Mississippi Burning“, “Jacob’s Ladder” and “Heavy“. Eventually after “The Legend of 1900” it looks as if he has been forgotten a bit and only played small parts like in “Beautiful Creatures“, “Homefront” and “13 Sins“. Probably those parts were so small that I can’t even remember them. All in all I found him fitting for this part although there was sometimes a case of overacting and he wasn’t really in sync with the rudderless ship during the storm as he was wobbling all over the place. This stormy scene was for me rather too dramatic and slapstick-like. Pretending to be seasick, swaying back and forth and doing the waltzing dance while sitting behind the piano.
Although this film is appropriate for it, it still didn’t become an overly grand Hollywood spectacle in which they couldn’t resist to use excessively sentimental stuff and exaggerated wide angle action effects. It was sometimes overwhelming and impressive. The moment someone sees the Statue of Liberty and the whole ship starts waving with handkerchiefs and everybody is shouting out of intense joy (while the upper class sticks to a polite subdued applause) was the first goosebumps moment. After the umpteenth time however, despite the successful comedic approach in the end, it was a bit too much. Also the piano duel was a highlight where it was indisputable that 1900 played in such a way that it looked like he was playing with four hands (and the highlight of the smoldering cigarette ofcourse). Yet at one time I had reached a saturation point. A superb duel and brilliant expressions, but still it was excessively long.
But these tiny remarks don’t outweigh the greatness of this film. Brilliant, excellent movie !
My rating 9/10
Links : IMDB