The Legend of 1900 (1998) is an immigrant's tale. At the turn of the century, in New York Harbor, a baby was left anonymously on a ship, in a "T. D. Lemons" fruit crate.
Stevedore Danny Boodman (Bill Nunn) found the baby & named him "Danny Boodman T. D. Lemon 1900."
He grew up called 1900. That ship upon which he was born would become his whole world, & at no time in his life would he leave it.
At age eight, 1900's foster-dad was killed in an accident. It was afterward discovered the child was a musical savant with an instinct for the piano.
Thereby he had a paying gig for life on the rich folks' deck, playing in the ocean liner's dance hall.
Tim Roth plays 1900 as an adult. He was generally quite the happy dude. But decades later when The Virginian is about to be scuttled, 1900 still hides on board, psychologically incapable of leaving her, no matter the price of refusing to do so.
The sentimentality of the tale might be a bit syrupy at times, but it has some truly memorable moments. The piano duel with Jelly Roll Morton (Clarence Williams III) & other cornpone events can bowl you over if you go along with the affectations of the story.
Jelly Roll's "defeat" smacked of a racist fantasly of the scrawny whlite boxer who beat the crap out of Mohammed Ali, when no such man ever existed, but again, we just have to go with the flow & not read too much into the severely pokerfaced joke of 1900's inability to leave the ship.
It's also dissonent when he sneaks into the women's sleeping quarters to stare at a sleeping young woman (Melanie Thierry) for whom he had the hots.
It was intended to be tragic & full of longing, as the tale lets us see that 1900 could've had a recording career, a landlubber's life, even the love of a beautiful lass, if only he could leave that ship. But the critical scene actually made 1900 look stalkerish or potentially a rapist.
Lapses here & there aside, it's an effectively strange little story, with 1900 kept at a distance by the structure of the tale, told in flashbacks by the viewpoint of horn player Max Tooney (Pruitt Taylor Vince).
Max had known 1900 in the heyday of the ship's orchestra, & had the sneaking suspicion he might still be on board the only world he'd ever known. Max tracked him through the rusty, abandoned hulk of the soon to be scuttled S.S. Virginian.
In creating the mood of another age, the film does right well, & Tim Roth creates an engagingly bizarre doe-eyed martyr from the material given him. Roth manages also always to look like he belongs to the period the film is set in, as though truly born out of time & belonging in that other age.
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