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The Legend of 1900 (1998 movie)

4 Ratings: 4.0
A movie directed by Giuseppe Tornatore

The story of an individual who is born and raised on a ship, learning about people and the outside world through interactions with the ship's rotating passengers, THE LEGEND OF 1900 comes from director Guiseppe Tornatore. When a deckhand, Boodman … see full wiki

Director: Giuseppe Tornatore
Genre: Drama
Release Date: 1998
MPAA Rating: R
1 review about The Legend of 1900 (1998 movie)

Legend of 1900 & Jelly Roll Morton meet

  • Jun 26, 2003
Pros: Clarence Williams III, cinematography, script & music

Cons: ....

The Bottom Line: ______________

When you are served lemons, make lemonade
Danny Broodmann was a hard working shipmate who sometimes searched the ballrooms after the rich and famous held a decadent party, looking for things left behind. He grumbles, “Not even a decent cigar butt”, as he crawls along the floor. What he doesn’t expect to find is an old lemon crate on the piano. Even more, he didn’t expect to find a beautiful baby boy inside the crate.

So is born Danny Broodmann T.D. Lemon Nineteen Hundred, or '1900’ for short. And the elder Danny becomes an unlikely father.

He hides the baby away below decks, the entire crew semi-adopts the infant, looking out for him when Danny is busy. One day an unforgiving chain & tackle flies loose from its binding and thumps old Danny on the nog. After a short time, he passes away, leaving the young boy once again alone.

What starts as a fancy becomes a passion and then a career
From the piano 1900 was rescued and to the piano he returns. His talent is unbounded, a natural at the keys. Eventually he is the full time entertainer on board this massive cruise ship. He has never set foot on land, his legend as the boy born on the ship is known worldwide, as is his expertise on the piano. All his needs are met through friends, I assume, in obtaining his clothes on shore. This is never discussed.

"There's always a man faster on the draw than you are, and the more you use a gun, the sooner you're gonna run into that man." -- Gunfight at the O.K. Corral
Word gets out to Jelly Roll Morton, who was The Man of Jazz during this era [and probably still is], and he decides to get on the dang ship and challenge 1900 to a trilling duel. 1900 feels he has nothing to prove, although the entire crew has bet huge bucks on him, and at first blows the entire thing off, playing "Silent Night". This does nothing but evoke the ire of Morton, who begins one of the most complex pieces of playing I’ve ever heard.

Not for himself, or maybe just for himself, 1900 finally steps forward and blows old Jelly Roll out of the water.

Jelly Roll departs at the next dock.

Love bites 1900 and decisions must be made
First, because of the competition between Jelly Roll & 1900, Victor [the old phonograph company, Victor] tries to get 1900 to come to the studio to record. 1900 is in his 30’s now, he has never set foot on land and it ain’t likely Victor is going to be successful. Victor comes to the ship for a recording session.

During the session, a vision, known simply as ‘The Girl’ passes a porthole and 1900 finds his first love. The piece he plays draws every emotion from his body as he watches the girl progress from one end of the ship to the other. Victor, of course, is insane with joy. It will be a masterpiece, they will become rich beyond their every dream. 1900 snatches the recording from their greedy hands, to present it to ‘The Girl’ before she departs ship.

It doesn’t happen and he shatters the recording in pieces, throwing them in the trash. It is the broken pieces of this recording that starts this movie, in a little pawnshop along the coast. The retrieval, or finding, of these pieces, takes us in flashbacks through the story I’ve given you above. So, although they are discovered at the very beginning of the movie, it evolves into another tale entirely.

The story is relayed through the eyes of Max Tooney, who had become 1900’s fast friend when he signed on board with the band. They made many crossings together and he even gave 1900 his own topcoat and hat for the day that 1900 finally walked down the gangplank to go find the girl of his dreams.

In the end, it is Max that must decide if the legend of 1900 will remain pristine.

Director Giuseppe Tornatore performed a beautiful piece of work through his ability to bring the viewer inside the workings of the ship and into the lives of those that make cruises happen. He also makes us part of the amazement of the emigrants when they first see America. As well, while we venture into the sweaty and grimy depths of the ship, above our heads are the glamorous, the diamonds, furs & tuxedos and he moves us from one environment to the other without making each area seem all that removed.

The feature showing the dueling piano players, 1900 & Jelly Roll, are outstanding. It made my hands cramp to just watch the action. Tim Roth [1900] did play the elusive “Silent Night” as his teaser to Jelly Roll, I do not know who played the piano during the other shots – either for Jelly Roll or 1900. Even as serious as some of this sounds, there was a good deal of humor throughout, especially the rolling piano during a bad sea storm – as they say ‘priceless’.

Writing credits go to Alessandro Baricco and Giuseppe Tornatore for this wonderful movie. The actors include: Tim Roth as Danny Boodmann T.D. Lemon Nineteen Hundred '1900', Pruitt Taylor Vince as Max Tooney, the enticing Mélanie Thierry as The Girl, Bill Nunn as Danny Boodmann, Clarence Williams III as Jelly Roll Morton and Peter Vaughan (I) as 'Pops', the owner of the pawnshop.

One thing they did not cover, other than the clothing thing, was how 1900 gained his prowess at the piano. No mention was made on how he learned his incredible talent, pity.

Even though Tim Roth & Max Tooney were fantastic in this movie, I was most taken with Clarence Williams III. He WAS Jelly Roll – all swagger and snappy attitude. I can’t imagine another actor that could have carried this part the way Williams did.

Awards & nominations
I’m surprised so few know of this movie because it certainly earned some awards:
~David di Donatello Awards: won Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Director, Best Music, Best Production Design.
~European Film Awards – won Best Cinematographer
~Golden Globe Awards – won Best Original Score
~Guild of German Art House Cinemas – won Silver Foreign Film Award
~Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists – won Silver Ribbon, Best Costume Design, Best Director, Best Producer, Best Production Design, Special Silver Ribbon for musical research

It was also nominated for over 10 other awards. There is a soundtrack available from the movie. For those that are interested, the music played was almost entirely written & performed by Ferdinand ‘Jelly Roll’ Morton. ‘Lost Boys Calling’ was performed by Roger Waters, with music by Ennio Morricone, lyrics by Roger Waters and guitar solo by Edward Van Halen.

Now a little about ‘Jelly Roll’. As a teen he worked the 'horehouses of Storyville, then as a gambler, pool shark, pimp, vaudeville comedian and a pianist. He lead the transition between ragtime & jazz piano styles. He formed the group Red Hot Peppers and made a series of records for Victor. RIP Jelly Roll 1885 - 1941.

So Jelly Roll was a real figure, a cornerstone of American Jazz, flamboyant and aggressive. And 1900? Why, maybe he was just a legend after all.



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