The Legend of 1900

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The Legend of 1900
Leggenda pianista.jpg
Italian theatrical film poster
Directed by Giuseppe Tornatore
Written by Giuseppe Tornatore
Based on Novecento 
by Alessandro Baricco
Starring Tim Roth
Pruitt Taylor Vince
Mélanie Thierry
Bill Nunn
Clarence Williams III
Peter Vaughan
Music by Ennio Morricone
Cinematography Lajos Koltai
Editing by Massimo Quaglia
Studio Sciarlò
Medusa Film
Distributed by Medusa Film
Fine Line Features
Release dates
  • October 28, 1998 (1998-10-28) (Italy)
  • October 29, 1999 (1999-10-29) (United States)
Running time 170 min. (Italy)
125 min. (international)
Country Italy
Language English
Budget $9 million
Box office $259,127 (United States)

The Legend of 1900 (Italian: La leggenda del pianista sull'oceano, The Legend of the Pianist on the Ocean) is a 1998 Italian drama film directed by Giuseppe Tornatore and starring Tim Roth, Pruitt Taylor Vince and Mélanie Thierry. It was Tornatore's first English-language film.[1] The film is inspired by Novecento, a monologue by Alessandro Baricco. The film was nominated for a variety of awards worldwide, winning several for its soundtrack.

Plot[edit]

The story is told in medias res as a series of flashbacks. Max Tooney, a musician, enters a secondhand music shop just before closing time, broke and badly in need of money. He has only a Conn trumpet, which he sells for less than he had hoped. Clearly torn at parting from his prized possession, he asks to play it one last time. The shopkeeper agrees, and as the musician plays, the shopkeeper immediately recognizes the song from a broken record matrix he found inside a recently acquired secondhand piano. He asks who the piece is by, and Max tells him the story of 1900.

1900 was found abandoned on the four stacker oceanliner SS Virginian, a baby in a box, and likely the son of poor immigrants from steerage. Danny, a coal-man from the boiler room, is determined to raise the boy as his own. He names the boy Danny Boodman T. D. Lemon 1900 (a combination of his own name, the year he was born and an advertisement found on the box) and hides him from the ship's officers. During the early years of his life, 1900 comes across an advertisement for a man with the initials of T.D.; however, on seeing the advertisement and possibly 1900's biological father, Danny decides not to tell 1900 the truth. Sadly, a few years later, Danny is killed in a workplace accident, and 1900 is forced to survive aboard the Virginian as an orphan. For many years, he travels back and forth across the Atlantic, keeping a low profile and apparently learning the languages spoken by the immigrants in Third Class.

The boy shows a particular gift for music and eventually grows up and joins the ship's orchestra. He befriends Max in 1927, but never leaves the vessel. Apparently, the outside world is too "big" for his imagination at this point. But he stays current with outside musical trends as passengers explain to him a new music trend or style, and he immediately picks it up and starts playing it for them.

His reputation as a pianist is so renowned that Jelly Roll Morton, of New Orleans jazz fame, on hearing of 1900's skill comes aboard to challenge him to a piano duel. After hearing Jelly Roll Morton's first tune 1900 plays a piece so simple and well known ("Silent Night") that the self-proclaimed inventor of jazz feels mocked. As Morton becomes more determined to display his talent, he plays an impressive improvised tune ("The Crave") that brings tears to 1900's eyes. 1900 calmly sits down at the piano and plays from memory the entire tune that Morton had just improvised. 1900's playing fails to impress the crowd until he plays an original piece ("Enduring Movement") of such virtuosity that the metal piano strings become hot enough for 1900 to light a cigarette. He hands it to Morton, who has lost the duel.

A record producer, having heard of 1900's prowess, brings a primitive recording apparatus aboard and cuts a demo record of a 1900 original composition. The recorded music is created by 1900 as he gazes at a woman (The Girl) who has just boarded and whom he finds attractive. When 1900 hears the recording, he takes the master, offended at the prospect of anyone hearing the music without his having performed it live. He then tries to give the master to The Girl who inspired it, but is unable to and breaks the matrix into pieces.

The story flashes back to the mid-1940s periodically, as we see Max (who leaves the ship's orchestra in 1933) trying to lure 1900 out of the now-deserted hull of the ship. Having served as a hospital ship and transport in World War II, she is scheduled to be scuttled and sunk far offshore. Max manages to get aboard the ship with the recording 1900 made long ago and plays it, hoping to attract 1900's attention. When it does, Max attempts to convince 1900 to leave the ship. But he is too daunted by the size of the world. And feeling that his fate is tied to the ship, 1900 cannot bring himself to leave the only home he has known. In the end, the Virginian blows up and sinks, with 1900 still aboard. Max feels useless that he couldn't save his friend.

The shopkeeper asks Max how the record got into the secondhand piano. Max indicates that he put it there, and the shopkeeper tells him that he wasn't so useless after all. Then, as Max is leaving the store, the shopkeeper gives him the trumpet and says, "A good story is worth more than an old trumpet," and Max walks out as another customer walks in.

Cast[edit]

Awards[edit]

Year Governing body Award Nominee and category[2] Result
1999 Camerimage Golden Frog Lajos Koltai for Best Cinematography Lost to Elizabeth[3]
1999 David di Donatello David Lajos Koltai for Best Cinematography Won
Maurizio Millenotti for Best Costume Design
Giuseppe Tornatore for Best Director
Ennio Morricone for Best Music
Francesco Frigeri for Best Production Design
Best Film Lost to Fuori Dal Mondo[4]
Best Screenplay
Scholars Jury David Giuseppe Tornatore Won
1999 European Film Awards European Film Award Lajos Koltai for Best Cinematographer (also for Sunshine) Won
2000 Golden Globes Golden Globe Award Ennio Morricone for Best Original Score - Motion Picture Won
2000 Guild of German Art House Cinemas Guild Film Award - Silver Giuseppe Tornatore for Foreign Film Won
1999 Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists Nastro d'Argento Maurizio Millenotti for Best Costume Design Won
Giuseppe Tornatore for Best Director
Best Producer
Francesco Frigeri for Best Production Design
Giuseppe Tornatore for Best Screenplay
Nastro d'Argento Speciale Ennio Morricone for the musical research for composing the movie's original score
2000 Satellite Awards Golden Satellite Award Francesco Frigeri and Bruno Cesari for Best Art Direction, Production Design Lost to Sleepy Hollow[5]
Ennio Morricone for Best Original Score

References[edit]

External links[edit]