The Legend of 1900

Italy 1998

Reviewed by Mark Sinker


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

Plymouth, England, the 40s. Jazz trumpeter Max sells his horn to a music-shop owner who lets him play it one last time. The tune reminds the owner of a record he has come by. Max recognises the music, and tells the owner the tale of the greatest pianist who ever lived: 1900, whom Max met aboard the USS Virginian.

Named for his birth year, foundling 1900 was raised aboard the ocean liner and never left it. Miraculously able to play piano from a young age, 1900 became the ship's entertainer. In 1927 Max came to work on the ship, and during his time aboard Max saw 1900 beat 'Jelly Roll' Morton in a jazz duel, got him recorded and watched as he fell in love with an unnamed girl. 1900 smashed the one copy of the recording; Max hid the pieces in the ship's piano. Later 1900 considered leaving the ship, but turned back. Max left the ship in 1933. In the present, the now-derelict Virginian is due for dynamiting; the shop owner had bought the piano at the port. Max searches for his friend on the ship. Finally, 1900 appears and explains why he cannot leave. Distraught, Max leaves and the ship is blown up. The shop owner gives Max his trumpet back.


This first English-language movie by Giuseppe Tornatore, director of Cinema Paradiso, has been dubbed already by wags Ship of Fool: it centres on a solitary man ship-bound for almost 50 years, even though he's supposedly the greatest pianist who ever lived. Touting itself as a fable, this blodged, peculiar, overloud post-Titanic epic hints it has a compelling metaphor somewhere in it, but the more we try - striving to be agnostic about Tornatore's humour-free sentimentality and leaden ear for English speech patterns - the less we find.

Star Tim Roth coolly junks the unplayable notion of 1900 as a placeless genius and goes for a watchable performance as an unassuming murmur of a fellow - which unfortunately shows up the graceless mugging everyone else gets away with. As Jelly Roll Morton, who claimed to have invented jazz, Clarence Williams III at least brings real dignity to his cameo (which demands a genuine historical black figure be humiliated by a pasty white fiction). However, this implicit racial slur is dwarfed by the broader contempt the film seems to have for the music at the story's core.

Since it costs 1900 no effort to gain his musical gift, it never feels as if it matters to anyone whether it is preserved. Certainly the record we hear of 1900 playing is highly anachronistic - deeper and plusher than any hi-fi reproduction the real-life Morton had access to. Pre-electric recording today has immense force through our sense of the dead all but physically caressing these objects. To amplify or boost such documents is to dilute their power as mementoes - so paradoxically this story about music could perhaps only have worked as a silent film. Instead, 1900's disc blares out at us in full Dolby surround-sound. Give or take dabs of post-production crackle and wobble, it's not different enough from the film's live performances to convey any sense of loss. Besides, how is it that, of all the people who heard 1900 play, his 'legend' only haunts one listener, Max?

Only three moments of phantasmagoria puncture the platitudes. The first is when Max meets 1900 during a storm at sea and they careen together on an unmoored piano around the ballroom and down corridors, past shoes set out to be shined which shuffle and slither on the plunging deck. The second is the vista of New York 1900 sees when he's about to leave the ship, a matte which is no 20s sprawl but a sinister H. R. Giger Babylon, with seagulls like pterosaurs menacingly circling.

The third haunting vision is the engine room of 1900's infanthood, a firelit Tartarus. If 1900's piano-playing had been imagined so as to encompass this Dantean hell, 1900's first apprehended soundworld, only someone like black free-jazz titan Cecil Taylor could possibly have performed the soundtrack. And Taylor, a world-historical legend with a genuine claim to the greatest-ever title, is a pianist even Jelly Roll Morton might have taken defeat from, honour unsullied.


Giuseppe Tornatore
Giuseppe Tornatore
Based on the stage monologue Novecento by
Alessandro Baricco
Director of Photography
Lajos Koltai
Massimo Quaglia
Production Designer
Francesco Frigeri
Music/Music Conductor/ Orchestrations
Ennio Morricone
©1998 Medusa
Production Companies
FineLine Features
Medusa Motion Pictures
A Medusa Film presentation
Produced by Sciarlò s.r.l.
A Medusa Film production
Executive Producer
Laura Fattori
Production Supervisors
Foreign Shoot:
Walter Massi
2nd Unit:
Giorgio Innocenti
Mario Francini
Production Co-ordination
Pietro Notarianni
Francesco Tornatore
Production Co-ordinators
Judith Goodman
Catherine Smith
Renata Paccarié
Silvia Ranfagni
Ukraine Production Services
Danapris Film (Kiev)
Oleg Korotenko
Production Managers
Riccardo Neri
2nd Unit:
Andrea Nuzzolo
Unit Managers
Mario Francini
Ruggero Salvadori
Maurizio Pigna
Italian Post-production Supervisor
Piero Sassaroli
Assistant Directors
Fabrizio Sergenti Castellani
Inti Carboni
Davide Cincis
Denver Beattie
Script Supervisor
Stella D'Onofrio
Fabrizio Sergenti Castellani
Jeremy Zimmermann
Valerie McCaffrey
Shaila Rubin
Italian Dialogue Adaptation
Cesare Barbetti
2nd Unit Director of Photography
Enrico Lucidi
Camera Operators
Enrico Lucidi
Giovanni Gebbia
2nd Unit:
Enrico Lucidi
Steadicam Operator
Giovanni Gebbia
Visual Effects Supervisor
David Bush
Digital Post-production
Interactive Group
Digital Post-production Supervisor:
Marcello Buffa
Digital Supervisors:
Patrizia Pellegrino
Riccardo Bertoli
Digital Post-production co-ordinators:
Philip Carter
Alessia Bassi
Scanning/Film Recordists:
Daniele De Santis
Alberto Restelli
Matthew Hancock
Domino Artists:
Silvia Landro
Daria Sardi
Donald Campbell
Peter Connelly
Neil Cunningham
Inferno Artists:
Filippo Olivari
Kristina Gahlin
Catherine Veevers
Marios Theodosi
Peter 'Beak' Cvijanovic
Gianni Marzagalli
Computer Graphics Artists:
Emanuele D'Arrigo
Matteo Eleni
Cristiano Mariani
Oscar Tornincasa
Riccardo Zanettini
Virtual Set Design:
Corrado Strada
Matte Paint Artist:
Federico Bozzano
Digital Post-production
Men in White Coats
Computer Film Company
Das Werk
Company B
Cinecittà '105' Digitale
Digital Visual Effects Organization:
Steve Shaw
Adrian Martin
Lasairfhiona Lawless
Alexander Bresinsky
Charles Morin
Sharon Lark
Co-ordinator of Digital Visual Effects:
Phil Attfield
Rebecca Elliot
Domino Artists:
Tom Hocking
Simon Carr
Gruff Owen
Paul Cotsen
Guido Pappadà
Franco Sgueglia
Alessandro Cioffi
Maurizio Corrado
Pietro Iodice
George Maihöfer
Manfred Büttner
Solo Avital
Jasmin Karehalli
Paddy Eason
Cineon Artists:
Silvia Cipparoli
Stefano Ballirano
Marina Di Patrizi
Special Effects
Corridori Giovanni & C.
Renato Agostini
Franco Ragusa
Claudio Savassi
2nd Unit:
Germano Natali
Edmondo Natali
Fabio Massimo Traversari
Ship Model
Villahermosa Plastici
Ship Model Designers
Stefano Barile
Jaime Villahermosa
Motion Control Operators
Michael Connor
Ian Menzies
Ben Goldschmied
Editing Collaborators
Ugo De Rossi
Carla Simoncelli
Set Decorator
Bruno Cesari
Roberta Federico
Biagio Fersini
Lucia Nigri
Francesco Grant
Costume Designer
Maurizio Millenotti
Wardrobe Mistress
Maria Antonietta Salvatori
Key Make-up
Luigi Rocchetti
Enzo Mastrantonio
Renato Francola
Hair Stylist
Aldo Signoretti
Carla Indoni
Angelo Vannella
Studio 4
Gilda Buttà
AMIT - Accademia Musicale Italiana
Fausto Anzelmo
Soprano Sax:
Gianni Oddi
Cicci Santucci
Music Co-ordinator
Enrico De Melis
Recording Engineers
Fabio Venturi
Damiano Antinori
Consultant for Classical Jazz Excerpts
Amedeo Tommasi
Jazz History Consultant
Marcello Piras
Piano Instructors
Ian Townsend
Gianluca Pumpo
Prescott Niles
Trumpet Instructors
Michael Applebaum
Mark Hamilyn
"Alexander's Ragtime Band" by Alessandro Panatteri; "Thanks Danny" music by Ennio Morricone, Cesare De Natale; "Big Fat Ham", "The Crave", "The Finger Breaker" aka "Finger Buster" by 'Jelly Roll' Morton; "Jungle Blues" by 'Jelly Roll' Morton; "Peacherine Rag" by Scott Joplin; "It's a Long
Way to Tipperary" by Jack Judge, Harry Williams
Leontine Snel
Sound Recordist
Roberto Petrozzi
Re-recording Mixers
Angelo Raguseo
Thomas Richard Johnson
Richard Beggs
Supervising Sound Editor
Michael Billingsley
Sound Editors
Marta Billingsley
Valeria Campana
Andrea Lancia
Lilio Rosato
Sound Effects
Consorzio Studio 16
Cesare Barbetti
Nick Alexander
Michael Billingsley
Roberto Cappannelli
Daniele Barlone
1999 international version credits
Executive Producer
Marco Chimenz
Fine Line Executives
Carmela Galano
Ileen Maisel
Production Executive
Claire BestPost-Production Executive
Sara King
Post Co-ordinator
Fabian Marquez
Additional Soundtrack
"Lost Boys Calling" by Ennio Morricone, Roger Waters, performed by Roger Waters, Edward Van Halen
LA Director:
Hugh Waddell
Tim Roth
Danny Boodman T.D. Lemon Novecento
Pruitt Taylor Vince
Max Tooney
Mélanie Thierry
the girl
Bill Nunn
Danny Boodman
Peter Vaughan
music shop owner
Niall O'Brien
Plymouth harbour master
Gabriele Lavia
Alberto Vásquez
Mexican stoker
Clarence Williams III
'Jelly Roll' Morton
Cory Buck
Lemon, aged 8
Norman Chancer
disc jockey
Sidney Cole
black guy
Luigi De Luca
Napolitan stoker
Agostino Di Giorgio
banjo player
Harry Ditson
Captain Smith
Femi Elufowoju Jr
black stoker
Nigel Fan
Chinese stoker
Easton Gage
Lemon, aged 4
Eamon Geoghegan
Piero Gimondo
Kevin McNally
Senator Wilson
Luis Molteni
Roger Monk
Irish stoker
Aida Noriko
Vernon Nurse
Fritz Hermann
Bernard Padden
Stefano Pagni
bass/tuba player
Bryan Pringle
ship's recruiter
Michael Supnick
Ivan Truol Troncoso
Adriano Wajskol
Heathcote Williams
Doctor Klauserman
John Armstead
Katy Monique Cuom
Nicola Di Pinto
Andrew Dunford
Emanuele Gullotto
Michael Koroukin
Masa Mbatha Opasha
Adrian McCourt
Riccardo Pellegrino
Shaila Rubin
Beniamino Vitale
Paul Richard Wood
Anita Zagaria
Wilson Du Bois
radio operator
Leonid Zaslavski
Polish stoker0
Steven Luotto
'blind' helmsman
Italian version voice cast
Massimo Popolizio
Carlo Valli
Graziano Giusti
music shop owner
'Jerry Roll' Morton
Corrado Pani
Plymouth harbour master
Vittorio Di Prima
Danny Boodmann
Dario Penne
Captain Smith
Paolo Bonacelli
ship's recruiter
Julien Lovett
young Novecento
Vittorio Stagni
squadron leader
Monica Berolotti
the girl
Nando Paone
Fritz Hermann
Saverio Moriones
Mexican stoker
Ermanno Ribaudo
Irish stoker
Angelo Nicotra
man in record shop
Paolo Triestino
Cesare Barbetti
Senator Wilson
Entertainment Film Distributors Ltd
11,255 feet
125 minutes 4 seconds
Original version
circa 170 minutes
Dolby digital
Colour by
Anamorphic [Technovision]
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011