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movie log: The Legend of 1900 (1998)

Posted on Tuesday, March 3, 2009 in movies

Viewed February 21, 2009: The Legend of 1900 directed by Giuseppe Tornatore, starring Tim Roth and Pruitt Taylor Vince, and featuring Bill Nunn and Clarence Williams III.

This is the story – a fantasy, really – told in flashback reminiscences by musician Max Tooney (Vince) about a man who was abandoned as a baby aboard a passenger liner in the year 1900. He is found by coal stoker Danny Boodmann (played by Bill Nunn) on top of a grand piano in the ship’s luxurious ballroom. As it’s the beginning of a new century (geeks, you’ll have to get past the fact that it really isn’t) Boodmann christens the boy “1900” and raises him aboard ship. Time elapses, Boodmann passes on; one day the boy 1900 wanders into the ballroom, sits down at piano, and displays an innate talent. More time goes on and 1900, now grown into a man (played by Tim Roth) wows the first-class passengers who gather nightly in the ballroom. In all this time, 1900 has never left the ship, yet his reputation has spread. His life is remembered in episodes, some dramatic, some romantic, some poignant. In one, famed musician Jelly Roll Morton (Clarence Williams III), self-proclaimed inventor of jazz, takes a trip on the ship just so he can prove his superiority to 1900. The contest between them, about midway through the film, with 1900 producing a Leo Ornstein -like performance, is not to be missed. One assumes that the filmmakers have taken some liberties with the character of the real Jelly Roll Morton; you just have to treat it as poetic license. And they did use some of Morton’s music in the contest.

This is my third viewing of this movie, and it’s just a wonderful film. In my mini-review of “Angel-A” I referred to that film as a fairy tale for adults – a friend suggested that that tag might apply to this movie as well.

Other than a few sequences (such as the above-mentioned piano contest), this is a deliberately-paced (read: slow) movie, which may put off some viewers who demand action and fast cars and explosions (OK, so there are some explosions in this film). While my tastes generally run to the more deliberate movies, even I would say that the second half of this film could use some tightening. But then again: the version I’ve seen is the US release which runs 125 minutes. The original release was 35 minutes longer than that, and I suspect that any problem that I have with the editing of this film stems from the fact that so much was removed from it. I’d love to see the longer version and compare.

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