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Aboard a passenger steam ship plying the Atlantic, a coal room worker (Bill Nunn) takes into his custody an abandoned baby boy. Being the first day of a new century, he christens the child "1900". In the years that follow, the adult 1900 (Tim Roth) becomes the toast of the seas as a piano player of unrivalled skill. Cut to England some years later and destitute jazz-man Max (Pruitt Taylor Vince) is about to pawn his trumpet when he learns that the ship he and 1900 once sailed is now in the local harbour waiting to be skuttled, and that his old friend may still be on board. Though sceptical of Max's fantastic tale about a ship-bound piano player who never set foot on dry land, the demolition crew reluctantly agrees to allow Max to board the condemned vessel to seek out its mysterious occupant.

"Music is the most eloquent of speakers – and in The Legend of 1900, music not only speaks, but transports us beyond language, class and nationality. It's an unusual story with compelling elements, and Giuseppe Tornatore's passion burns as surely as the cigarette ignited from the vibrations of dancing piano strings (a memorable scene). Indeed Ennio Morricone's music is beautiful enough to bridge any earthly destinations, and we are treated to an array of musical delights. Yet despite this, my emotions unfortunately didn't fly away – they were grounded by the film's fragmented structure – the constant flitting in and out of the past became a distraction. Perhaps, if it had been made in Italian, it may have had the captivating heart that Cinema Paradiso expressed so effortlessly. And there are a few inconsistences, which take away from the mood, so ably created by the superb production design. Nonetheless the tale is an engaging one and performances are marvellous. Tim Roth is extraordinary as the man who travelled all over the world through his music, but never disembarked from the ship. His performance is as subtle as his piano playing is extravagant. Roth conveys a tragic sense of detachment; he is a loner who observes and lives his life through the imagination of his music. You may discover an unusual cure for sea-sickness, while the jazz piano duel will have you tapping your feet furiously, with Clarence Williams III delightful as Jelly Roll Morton. Pruitt Taylor Vince grounds the story well; his friendship with 1900 is cemented through a passion for music. Beautiful pictures and music are The Legend of 1900's most redeeming features – and for those alone, it is worth a ticket."
Louise Keller

" The drive-belt of this film is the music, and sublime much of it is, as the piano playing legend of the title, the uniquely named 1900 (Tim Roth) creates jazz from the secret corners of his heart - superbly photographed by Hungarian cinematographer, Lajos Koltai. Indeed, Koltai displays an endless brilliance, even genius at times, in creating powerful, punchy images; he even manages to create new ways of shooting virtuoso piano playing. It's the best element of the film, a strength that makes it bearable to watch for two hours. This is not said lightly, nor happily: Tornatore is a wonderful artist and this is a worthwhile attempt at a grand, unusual drama. It is its earnest, heavy handed style that works against the film, with overblown filigree of elements that not so much decorate as weigh it down. The repetitious nature of the story structure, the clumsy time shifts back and forth, the over-worked use of visual and physical symbolism and the unsatisfactory creation of the central character all make it hard for an audience to participate. Not that Tim Roth fails to evoke character - it's just that we are told about him rather than allowed to discover him. Occasionally mawkish, frequently melodramatic and sometimes laboured, The Legend of 1900 is clear in its emotional intentions and ambitious in its intellectual objectives but fails by its story telling complexity - an irony audiences will recognise in one of the film's subtexts, about the importance of having a story to tell if all else is lost."
Andrew L. Urban

"After his Cinema Paradiso won the best foreign film Oscar back in 1989, director Giuseppe Tornatore went off to France to juggle metaphors and conundrums alongside Roman Polanski and Gerard Depardieu in the stylised A Pure Formality. A decade later, The Legend of 1900 finds the Italian filmmaker back in period mode trying to lend epic scope to what is essentially a one-idea premise. Structurally, the requisite ingredients are all there: wide screen compositions, a soaring Morricone score, the burnished hues of times gone by. And as an obvious concession to the sub-title-hating American audience, there's even an English soundtrack. So why doesn't it all work? What does this admittedly elegant exercise in myth-making lack? Well, for starters, how about heart and soul. Unlike Paradiso, where the dripping sentimentality was continually leavened by a liberating lyricism, and two actors of vastly different ages held an audience's emotions in the palm of their hands, this new film's aloofness feels almost deliberate. Much of this has to do with the way the lead role has been written as well as how it has been interpreted. Tim Roth is a fine young actor who has forged an impressive career out of playing taciturn tough guys and social misfits, and in that respect 1900 fits his repertoire well. But the role also calls on him to invite audience sympathy, and that's something an actor of Roth's internalised intensity is incapable of doing. Though crafted to perfection in its exquisite period design, the film ambles through its decorous narrative with an air of detachment which, frame for frame, winds up being every bit as distancing as Roth's cold, impassive gaze. Disappointing."
Leo Cameron

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LEGEND OF 1900, The (M)
Leggenda del pianista sull'oceano, La

CAST: Tim Roth, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Mélanie Thierry, Bill Nunn, Norika Aida, Peter Vaughan, Clarence Williams III

DIRECTOR: Giuseppe Tornatore

PRODUCER: Francesco Tornatore

SCRIPT: Giuseppe Tornatore, Alessandro Baricco


EDITOR: Massimo Quaglia

MUSIC: Ennio Morricone, Roger Water

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Francesco Frigeri

RUNNING TIME: 125 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 1, 2000 (Melbourne)

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