[box cover]

The Legend of 1900

Giuseppe Tornatore, director of Cinema Paradiso has created a beautiful but oddly unsatisfying fable with The Legend of 1900, based on the Italian novel by Alessandro Baricco. The story is presented via flashback, a tale told by a down-on-his-luck trumpet player named Max (Pruitt Taylor Vince), who's gone to a pawn shop to sell his trumpet. Before he leaves the shop, the store's owner (Peter Vaughan) plays an old jazz record — the only recording, it turns out, by Max's old friend, 1900 (Tim Roth). Found as a baby on the passenger steamer The Virginian, 1900 was raised by a coal steward (Bill Nunn) in the bowels of the ship, and named first after the coal steward, then the citrus crate in which he was found, and finally after the new century in which he was born — Danny Boodmann T.D. Lemons 1900. He eventually discovers a genius for the piano and spends his entire life on board The Virginian playing virtuoso jazz for the swells on a A-deck, also entertaining the immigrants packed into the steerage decks below on the sly. When Max meets 1900, he's awestruck by his music — and by the fact that his new friend has never set foot on land. Traveling back and forth between Europe and New York City, 1900's musical brilliance even reaches the attention of Jelly Roll Morton (Clarence Williams III), who books passage on the ship to challenge 1900 to a "piano duel." The Legend of 1900 is simply gorgeous to look at, drenched in atmosphere while Tornatore turns himself wrongside-out to pluck at our heratstrings. Some of the film's set-pieces are truly stunning — one scene in particular, when 1900 detaches the ship's grand piano from its footing during a violent storm, playing as the instrument rides madly around the ballroom, is as poetic as it hilarious. But ultimately, the film feels hollow — it doesn't seem to be about anything. To his credit, Tornatore (whose original cut of the film was three hours long) somehow avoids going in the expected route with the material at hand, giving us neither a ham-fisted metaphor for the 20th century nor another trite examination of class differences between the ship's upper and lower-deck passengers (like, oh, Titanic). Initially, this is refreshing. But as the film progresses, splendid as it is to look at — and to listen to, with its soaring, magical score by Ennio Morricone — it just doesn't go anywhere. By the time Roth gets to a rather overwrought explanation towards film's end as to his reasoning for staying at sea, we really don't care any more; the disappointment has set in that we've been lured into a stunningly beautiful film with no payoff. Image Entertainment's DVD release of 1900 offers a very clean, very crisp transfer in anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) with excellent Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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