The Legend of 1900 is one of the best films you’ve never heard of. Directed by the Italian filmmaker Giuseppe Tornatore of Cinema Paridiso fame, it tells the story of a piano virtuoso named 1900 who is born on a ship and never steps foot on land. Told in flashback form this film deals with the fear of change through the immigrant experience. To 1900 played by Tim Roth this ship is his life and the thought of stepping into a seemingly infinite world mortifies him. This quote by 1900 courtesy of Photo-Art-Life blogspot sums it up the best.
“Take piano: keys begin, keys end. You know there are 88 of them. Nobody can tell you any different. They are not infinite. You’re infinite… And on those keys, the music that you can make… is infinite. I like that. That I can live by…”
You rolled out in front of me a keyboard of millions of keys, millions and billions of keys that never end. And that’s the truth Max, that they never end. That keyboard is infinite… and if that keyboard is infinite, then on that keyboard there is no music you can play. You’re sitting on the wrong bench… That is God’s piano.
Christ, did you… did you see the streets, just the streets? There were thousands of them! Then how you do it down there, how do you choose just one… one woman, one house, one landscape to look at, one way to die…?
Tim Roth’s performance as one of the least rounded individuals in cinematic history is endearing and will pull at your heart strings. This script is so well written that it is hard to believe this is Giuseppe Tornatore first English language film. The musical score by Ennio Morricone is simply genius and garnered a Golden Globe for best score. The clips embedded below illustrate the virtuosity of the musical score, cinematography and the writing. Clip one which takes place halfway through the film is a duel between 1900 and the real life inventor of Jazz Jelly Roll Morton brilliantly played by Clarence Williams III. The ships passengers who are rooting for and in some cases betting on 1900 are disappointed by his lack of effort. Unaware that he is just toying with Morton they proceed to boo him. Morton fully aware that 1900 is mocking him pulls out all the stops. What proceeds is one of the best duel scenes in cinematic history. In clip two 1900 serendipitously finds inspiration for his first and only recorded piece. Strictly from a musical standpoint, the story telling in that composition is powerful. Play both clips if you have time, but if you don’t I recommend viewing clip two “Playing Love.” It is a moving piece of filmmaking. The Legend of 1900 is on my top 5 list of the best films you’ve never heard of. If you get a chance pick it up on Netflix.