Legend of 1900 Review

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A young man reminisces on 20 years spent at sea.


In Apocalypse Now, following a close call with a particularly toothsome tiger, Frederic Forrest's character, Chef, develops a new personal mantra: 'Never get off the boat'. Despite the fact that this life choice will result in Chef''s disembodied head rolling around Martin Sheen's lap, it is clearly one that director Giuseppe Tornatore took to heart when choosing his first English language movie.

For Tornatore's lead character, the spectacularly-named Danny Boodman T. D. Lemon 1900 (Roth), does indeed never get off the boat on which he was born - not for love, not for money, not for anything. Abandoned by his mother on top of a piano in the ballroom of immigrant-transporting ship The Virginian, the infant 1900 is raised below decks by loveable old coal shoveller Boodman Snr. (Nunn).

Following his adopted dads demise, things look grim for the nipper until he sneaks back into the ballroom and starts tinkling the ivories with jawdropping skill . By adulthood, 1900 has become firmly established as the house - sorry, ship - pianist and for the next 20 years watches the world slip by from behind his piano. The story is narrated in flashback by 1900's longtime trumpet-tooting pal Max (Taylor Vince) to a Forrest Gump-style series of listeners.

Particularly excellent are the striking set-pieces - our heroes 'riding' the piano bumper car-style during a storm, the duel between 1900 and real-life jazz legend Jelly Roll Morton (Clarence Williams III) - although the film undoubtedly belongs to Roth, who grants his character the kind of magnificent vacancy not seen since Peter Sellers' similarly blank-faced turn in Being There.

The film's conceit may be a slight, and occasionally schmaltz-heavy, one but should still find favour with fans of Tornatore's superior Cinema Paradiso.