The Legend of 1900 (1998)
Every once in a while there comes a film that catches you off guard, takes you on a journey, shows you something incredible and sets you back on your feet with a wink before walking off into the sunset. This was such a film.
Just after the Second World War, Max (Pruitt Taylor Vince), a transplanted American, visits an English pawn shop to sell his trumpet. When he asks to play it one last time and shop keeper agrees, he plays a tune that the shopkeeper recognizes from a broken wax recording he found in shards in a piano salvaged off a cruise ship slated for demolition. Max tells the shopkeeper the story of how, when he was younger and a talented jazz trumpet player aboard the posh cruise ship The Virginian, he met a young man named Danny Boodman T.D. Lemons 1900 (Tim Roth), an incredibly talented self-taught pianist, who had been born on the ship and throughout his entire life had never left it.
I had first heard of this film by accident when I picked up the soundtrack on a CD at a garage sale. At the time, I hadn’t the means (or, really, the desire) to get the film to watch, so I listened to the soundtrack once before discarding it and forgetting about it. That’s not to say the soundtrack is bad, far from it, just that without having seen the film, the music is just another collection of beautiful notes and harmonies. But no matter. What’s interesting is that this film found me twice, and the second time I couldn’t let it slip away.
I can say without a doubt or even a second’s hesitation that this film has made my top ten from the first watch-through. It was incredible. I’m actually having some trouble writing about it right now because I can’t get it out of my mind. I guess the first thing I have to say is that I adored the characters. Everyone in the film was very human. It’s one of the few films I have seen where there wasn’t a “villain” as such, or even a huge climactic peak. It was a film about someone’s (extraordinary) life, from start to beautiful end. And the ending, too, was just as it should have been; not over done, not dismissed… just perfect.
Just as there is no villain, there is also no love interest as such. Yes, there is a young woman that 1900 (using his full name is a bit of a mouthful) sees and becomes infatuated with, but nothing ever comes of it. He meets her on the cruise from Europe to the USA, speaks to her once, and then for three years never mentions her again. His true love is his music and the Virginian and the sea. He never makes it to land the one time he tries only because he can’t see an end to the city, and the infinite ongoing land in front of him is just something he can’t comprehend.
The next thing worth a mention would have to be the genius behind the score: Ennio Morricone. The reason that I picked up the soundtrack in the first place, the first time the film found me, was because of that man. If you don’t know the name then maybe you should get your ass to Youtube and look him up. He is one of the most brilliant composers alive, in my opinion, equal in both quality and beauty to Hans Zimmer. Which is perfect, considering that in this film, music is a character in itself. 1900 discovers music by chance and begins to live through it. There’s even a scene where he explains to Max how every person has a certain musical quality to them. Music is the way that 1900 sees the world, and after a while you start to as well.
I can’t even say what it is about this film that caught me… it was the feeling I got while watching it. It was like freedom. 1900 was so happy where he was, truly happy, and although his life was far from easy he was the most charming and innocent and charismatic individual; certainly one of my favourite characters to date. I fell completely in love with him, and because of it, Tim Roth (or maybe vise versa?)
This film gets a ridiculous 9/10 from me and I would watch it again in a heart beat; in fact, I might just set it going again. It’s a beautiful film that makes you feel incredible, joyful and happy to be alive. It’s a film that makes you open your eyes and SEE the world again. It’s a film that reminds me of both August Rush, which I may review later, and The Doors of Time, which is one of the most beautiful stories ever written.