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For the week of May 17 through May 23, 2000

Tim Roth stars in "The Legend of 1900," Giuseppe Tornatore’s film about an orphaned boy who grows up and becomes a piano prodigy on a trans-Atlantic steam ship at the turn of the century.

Noirish drama and a fairy tale close out film fest

Express Staff Writer

The Magic Lantern Spring Film Festival concludes this week with two new independent films, "The Limey" and "The Legend of 1900."

Those who saw Giuseppe Tornatore’s nostalgic "Cinema Paradiso" (1990) will likely be in a hurry to see his latest and first English language film, "The Legend of 1900."

"The Legend of 1900"The story alone is compelling. On the first day of 1900, a baby boy is found in a lemon crate aboard the Virginian, a trans-Atlantic steamship. Named for the year he was born, 1900 (Tim Roth) makes a family of the crew, experiences the outside world only through the ship’s passengers, becomes a jazz piano prodigy and then disappears.

The story is based on a monologue by Alessandro Barrico, the contemporary Italian novelist who first made waves with his best-seller "Silk," an erotic adventure set in 19th century Japan and France.

"I saw Barrico’s story as a fable for everyone," said Tornatore in a press release. "It is a universal fable built around a very modern metaphor for the human condition. I saw the character of 1900 representing nothing less than the precariousness of life itself, with his endless journeying between one continent and another without ever setting foot on land, with his way of existing but not really existing. This precariousness of existence is very close to us today."

In the film, the fairy tale-like life of 1900 is told through a former band-mate named Max (Pruitt Taylor Vince), who becomes convinced in 1930 that 1900 might still be alive and on board the Virginian. The ship, Max learns, is about to be demolished. Max rushes to the shipyard and tells the demolition crew about 1900’s extraordinary life aboard the Virginian.

Max tells them about the time Jelly Roll Morton (Clarence Williams) booked a passage on the Virginian specifically to challenge 1900 to a piano duel. (Morton loses.) And Max unfolds the tale of 1900’s consuming love for a beautiful girl in third class (newcomer actress Melanie Thierry), who inspires his sole piano recording.

Just before the demolition crew begin their work, Max climbs aboard the Virginian and plays that piece of music, which leads to the film’s fairy tale ending.

Critics have been hard on "The Legend of 1900" for its sappiness, but the film has been unanimously praised and awarded for its spectacular sets and lush cinematography. Ennio Morricone, who composed the music, won a Golden Globe for Best Original Score.

It’s hard to know what to expect from director Steven Soderbergh ("Sex Lies and Videotape," "Schizoplis," "Out of Sight," "Erin Brockovich"), but chances are that whatever he makes will be an oddity.

Between "Out of Sight" and "Brockovich," Soderbergh made the more off-beat "Limey." In the film, Terence Stamp plays Dave Wilson, the limey of the title, who is just out of prison and wants to avenge the death of his grown-up daughter at the hands of L.A. gangsters.

On his obsessional manhunt, Wilson is pitted against super-slick record producer Terry Valentine (Peter Fonda) who was Wilson’s daughter’s boyfriend.

Soderbergh’s earlier technical experiments pay off in "The Limey." The non-linear structure—part of the story is told through flashback footage taken from "Poor Cow," Ken Loach’s 1967 film starring Stamp—and the fractured editing are radical but somehow alluring.

Soderbergh’s eerie Los Angeles landscape, with its architecturally beautiful but imposing structures, enlivens the periphery of the "The Limey." So does the music, which includes The Byrds, The Hollies and The Who.


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