Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The Legend of 1900

The Legend of 1900 is a beautiful, artistic movie that will never be famous because there are no gunshots, murders, gratuitous violence, or explicit sexual scenes in the movie. It was made in Italy, not Hollywood. It is wistful, and beautiful and memorable. It is about music, and it is about a very unique sort of man.
This movie is primarily about a man named 1900 (played extremely well by Tim Roth) who, in his entire life has never set foot upon dry land. He was born on a cruise ship called “The Virginian” on the first day of the first month of the new century that he was named for. He was discovered and adopted by Danny, a large, genial black man that worked in the engine room down in the bowels of the ship.
Danny raised him onboard the ship and never took him off it. 1900 was still a young boy of perhaps 6 yrs or so when Danny was accidentally killed by a loose hook on a swinging chain. After that, he became the charge of the rest of the below-decks crew and they continued to raise him. One day, in the middle of the night, 1900 found his way up to the grand ballroom and sat down at the piano. Suddenly, he could play marvelously. He was a child prodigy. He could instinctively play beautiful music. The whole crew and captain were awakened and came to see who it was making this music. They were shocked to see little 1900’s fingers flowing like water over the keyboard, though his feet could not yet even reach the floor.
So 1900 found his place on board the ship. He joined the band as their piano player and was a spectacular talent. The whole story is narrated by the horn player who joined the band and became friends with 1900 at the age of 27. 1900 calls him “Conn” because he blows a Conn trumpet.
There is a wonderful, unforgettable scene, when they first meet. There is a huge storm at sea in the middle of the night, and Conn is throwing up into a planter. 1900 comes along, sees him, and then invites him into the ballroom. He will teach him to enjoy the rolling and pitching of the ship in the high sea. He sits at the piano, and tells Conn to unlock the wheels, and then hop on to the attached piano bench with him. As the boat rolls and rocks and tips in all directions, they are rolled around the ballroom dance floor while 1900 plays beautifully. Along with the music, they swing and swish, and glide, and twirl around like a complex ballet. The music synchronizes perfectly with the ‘dance’ of the piano and it’s two riders. Finally, it crashes through the huge stained-glass wall, rumbles down the hall – with 1900 never stopping the music, and finally crashes into the caption’s own stateroom.
It would be impossible to forget that scene, once you’ve seen it.
1900 becomes the favorite of both the higher-class upper decks and the lower class lower decks. His concern is not about money or class, or status. He exists in the music. The music is all that matters. In this way the heart of the true musician is captured.

The music score of this film is written by the incomparable Ennio Morricone. He has scored over 200 films in his career and is most famous for his series of Clint Eastwood ‘spaghetti westerns’ such as “The Good The Bad, and The Ugly”, “Fistful of Dollars”, etc. Here, he is at the top of his art creating utterly beautiful and expressive pieces that perfectly illustrate the events and moments of the film.
Other memorable scenes are the ‘contest’ between him and ‘Jellyroll Morton’ – the man who invented jazz. Jellyroll had heard of this fantastic piano player, some say the best player ever, but he won’t come off the ship. So Jellyroll comes to him to challenge him to a piano duel. I don’t want to give it away, but watch for the cigarette…
Another favorite scene is when he sees a beautiful woman, played by Melanie Thierry. He is playing for a recording – his first and only – and while he is playing, he is inspired by the sudden appearance of Thierry in the porthole beside him. As she walks around the deck corner she disappears from one portal and appears sunlit in the next as a perfect little cameo. Bright, and angelic. Beautiful. And his music perfectly captures her and the moment.
There are moments of inner turmoil as 1900 considers stepping off the ship. It is very interesting about how he ties his piano playing ability to the fact that he is on the ship. There are limits to a keyboard and the ship. But if he steps off the ship onto land – there are no limits. There is no ‘end’. And his mind cannot deal with infinities and large spaces like that.
Ironically, it is the ‘call of the sea’ which can only be heard from the land, that finally tempts him to step off onto land.
The ending is classic, and romantic in its ultimate conclusion.
This is one of my favorite movies, and I have shown it several times to visitors who want to see my home theater room. It is quite a story, really. Although it is not a sex/violence/comedy/war/ film, and not really a ‘chick flick’ per se, because it doesn’t have a hot and heavy romantic encounter, still there is a stolen kiss, and an unexpressed, not-fully-formed need for the object of his desires. Like real life, this does not conform to a usual Hollywood formula. It exists as a separate and unique film. With unique characters and a unique plot. You cannot help but wonder if it is true.


At 2/11/2006 5:33 PM, Blogger Ptelea said...

I had never heard of this movie. It sounds really good so I went to the local Blockbuster to rent it. Would you believe that someone had just checked out their only copy! Thanks for bringing it to my attention!

At 2/12/2006 12:55 AM, Blogger Val Serrie said...

Must be someone else who reads my blog! LOL well maybe not... LOL

I hope you do get a chance to see it. It really is a great movie - at least I think so.

At 10/03/2014 2:38 AM, Blogger Judianna said...

Don't know if you're even still running this blog but I just finished watching The Legend of 1900 for what must be the 8th or 9th time while showing it to a friend who really needed what this film has to offer. Actually, I almost always show it to friends in need of a certain kind of reality that only this film offers. It is a great rekindling of the spirit tool. I LOVE it. I bought and read the tiny book that it's based on and was even more impressed with the ensemble of artists who created it. Casting Tim Roth in this was a brilliant choice and so very different from his other work. But the real star of the film is the artistic vision co-created by so many talents.

At 11/30/2014 7:41 AM, Blogger joy oh said...

what i want to know is who actually played the piano. not tim roth tho he's a great actor.

At 11/20/2016 11:04 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

One of my favorite must see movies brings me to tears every time.

At 1/03/2017 2:08 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Was the book based on a real person?

At 1/03/2017 2:09 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Was the book based on a real person?

At 1/04/2017 6:23 AM, Blogger Verlain ePock said...

Hello there 2017 :')

At 1/04/2017 6:24 AM, Blogger Verlain ePock said...

Hello there 2017 :')

At 6/16/2017 5:20 AM, Blogger Terri McGill said...

I was a DJ but before that an audiophile without musical talent only perfect pitxh ears. This movie is a MUST for True Music lovers and the sequence showing the recording is phenomenal. True to life because a station I worked for had recording machine that hailed back to the 1920s and still functional along with Steinway baby grand piano.

At 11/21/2017 1:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just watched this movie and saw the original uncut version. I also saw the US released shorter version. The original is by far the best. It allows the story to unfold. It Italy it is performed onstage as the original monologue. Wonderful movie.

At 2/12/2018 3:20 PM, Blogger art said...

I was in love with this for years. Film students should see it in class. Everything is fantastic. The cinematography,the script
The acting,the directing, the music score,the lighting,scene setting. Should be studied and viewed by all


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