USA / 1998
Director and Writer: Giuseppe Tornatore
Cast: Tim Roth, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Bill Nunn, Clarence Williams III, Melanie Thierry
From the director of Cinema Paradiso comes this equally charming and much underrated film, with Tim Roth playing the eponymous 1900 (full name Danny Boodman T. D. Lemon 1900). He was named after, and by, an engine room worker on the liner The Virginian, Danny Boodman (Bill Nunn), who added the name of the lemon box the abandoned, squalling infant was found in. Adopted by the crew, he grows up and becomes the ship’s pianist, and also the finest jazz pianist in the world. But as the years go by and the ship cruises the world, 1900 refuses to disembark onto dry land, not even when a beautiful passenger (Melanie Thierry) catches his eye and returns his interest. He was born on the ship and will die on the ship.
Despite his reputation in Europe, Tornatore despaired of breaking the American market with a subtitled film and shot this in English with a recognised star. Although unfairly compared to Titanic , the film has a genuine, mythical spirit of its own, with Roth almost mystical in his role, and is worth catching for the ‘duel’ between 1900 and the legendary Jelly Roll Morton (Clarence Williams III), who boards to challenge his rival, the moment when 1900 and his best friend Max Tooney (Pruitt Taylor Vince) play together during a storm, as the piano slithers and careers around the ship, and the moment when 1900 almost leaves, only to be confronted by a New York that has an almost Giger-ish look to it. With gorgeous cinematography from Lajos Koltai and a soundtrack from the legendary Ennio Morricone, this film is a genuine overlooked gem.