The Legend of 1900
Tim Roth stars in the first English language film by Cinema Paradiso director Giuseppe Tornatore. A fantastical, historical fable about a gifted pianist born and raised on a cruise ship
Though Italian director Giuseppe Tornatore's Oscar-winning Cinema Paradiso was one of the surprise hits of the 80s, subsequently his profile has been low. Perhaps in an effort to rectify this, here he presents his first English language film, a lavish and unashamedly sentimental fable based on a monologue by Italian writer Alessandro Baricco. Given a ruthless studio edit before its release, more than once it threatens to drift off into whimsy, but remains on course, thanks to the firm presence of Tim Roth in the title role.
Told in flashback, it's the story of Danny Boodmann TD Lemon 1900 （Roth）， so-named because he was found as an infant in 1900, lodged in a crate of lemons aboard a luxury cruise liner. Growing up at sea, it swiftly becomes apparent that 1900 is a gifted - possibly even genius - pianist. His legend spreads and jazz giant Jelly Roll Morton （Williams） even comes aboard to hear him play. Years later and narrator/former band member Max Tooney （Vince） is pawning the trumpet he blew alongside 1900 when he hears the ship is to be sunk. Could it be that 1900 is still somewhere on board, mooning over a mysterious beauty known only as 'The Girl' （Thierry） while working up a lonely rag?
To an extent it's a film uncertain about its own destination and some wobbly dialogue means 1900 himself remains a bit of an enigma. En route, however, are some great set-pieces such as 1900's knuckle-busting keyboard duel with Morton and his ride round the room on top of a piano. Ennio Morricone's score ensures the music is at least as important as the sumptuous visuals, and is supplemented by some great jazz piano numbers by Scott Joplin and （the real） Jelly Roll Morton.
By turns compelling, confounding, and occasionally just downright odd, Tornatore's ocean-going epic contains much to admire. True, there are moments when it threatens to sink beneath a tide of sentiment, but an understated performance by Tim Roth and the music which forms the film's heart make this an unusual but worthwhile venture.