As he demonstrated a decade ago with his semi-autobiographical film, ''Cinema Paradiso,'' Giuseppe Tornatore can be awfully good at plucking nostalgic heartstrings.
The legend of
And in his first English-language film, ''The Legend of ,'' the Italian director has created a lavish, poetically ambitious period piece, drenched in romantic atmosphere that wants to tap into our tear ducts while aspiring to be the thinking man's ''Titanic. And this solemn, ersatz epic not only misses the boat intellectually but also fails as entertainment.
A two-hour cinematic fable based on a dramatic monologue by Alessandro Baricco, ''The Legend of '' tells the story of a foundling, discovered aboard the Virginian, a trans-Atlantic steamer, in the yearwho becomes a jazz piano prodigy.
Named after the year of his discovery and played by Tim Roth as a holy innocent whose wide Buster Keaton eyes gaze sadly out over the keyboard while he spins out his improvisations, the character has Allegorical ificance written all over him. Because he's a symbol of exactly what is never made clearwe're not supposed to wonder how he learned to read, write and speak impeccable English, or how he acquired his expensive wardrobe without ever having left the ship.
The thing about fables, if we are to take them seriously, is that they have to mean something and the characters have to add up to more than question marks. But when Nineteen Hundred has his moment of truth and must decide whether to leave the ship on which he has spent his entire life to pursue his dream girl, his explanation for his reluctance is a pseudo-poetic mumbo-jumbo about beginnings and endings and his being able to hear or not hear ''the voice'' of the sea.
The movie might have been partly salvageable if Nineteen Hundred's music soared to the heights everyone claims it does. In the film's dramatic climax, Jelly Roll Morton Clarence Williams 3dwho has heard rumors of Nineteen Hundred's genius, books a passage on the Virginian specifically to challenge him to a piano duel.
But the piece composed by Ennio Morricone with which Nineteen Hundred defeats Morton is a whirling, twirling, fussy, ''Flight of the Bumblebee''-like finger-flying exhibition that has velocity but little coherence. It is no match artistically for Morton's propulsive meat-and-potatoes jazz.
Vintage film review: the legend of () – the fable of a man whose music was his life
Much worse is the movie's dinky little theme song, a wistful piano fragment that characters tout as a Great Melody something beyond Chopin or Gershwin ; it comes to Nineteen Hundred as he falls hopelessly in love with a pretty third-class passenger Melanie Thierry while glimpsing her through a porthole. This, too, was composed by Mr. Morricone, who has done much more distinguished work, as in his score for ''Bugsy.
Morricone's love theme from ''In the Line of Fire'' is more eloquent. Weighing down the movie is a ponderous narration by Max Pruitt Taylor Vincea jazz trumpeter, who entrances a dealer of used musical instruments with the story of Nineteen Hundred.
The legend of  review: music. passion. life.
Lajos Koltai's cinematography bathes everything in a rich, golden light. In the most magical moment, the young Nineteen Hundred Cory Buck presses his nose against a stained-glass partition to observe the blurred images of whirling, formally attired ballroom dancers. Later, in a dizzying set piece, he unhooks the grand piano from its footing during a violent storm and plays the instrument as it careers wildly across the floor, eventually crashing through the stained glass.
Watching ''The Legend of '' is a little like coming upon a beautifully lighted, ornately framed painting in a museum and discovering on closer inspection that the picture itself is just a piece of kitsch. It includes some profanity. Running time: minutes.
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