Acclaimed director and Oscar winner James Ivory has opened up about his 44-year-long relationship with his producing partner, Ismail Merchant, in an interview with The Guardian. Ivory told the newspaper on Tuesday that he had to keep his relationship with Merchant, with whom he ran Merchant Ivory Productions, a secret because of Merchant’s conservative background.
“Well, you just wouldn’t,” said Ivory, who won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for Luca Guadagnino’s gay romance Call Me By Your Name in March. “That is not something that an Indian Muslim would ever say publicly or in print. Ever! You have to remember that Ismail was an Indian citizen living in Bombay, with a deeply conservative Muslim family there. It’s not the sort of thing he was going to broadcast. Since we were so close and lived most of our lives together, I wasn’t about to undermine him.”
Merchant and Ivory made 44 films set in India, Europe and America. Among their most celebrated films, which were directed by Ivory, are Shakespeare Wallah (1965), Heat and Dust (1983), A Room with a View (1985), Maurice (1987), Howards End (1992) and The Remains of the Day (1993). Merchant died in 2005. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, the novelist and screenwriter of 23 MIP titles, died in 2013.
Ivory, who is 89, became the oldest Academy Award winner in March. He attributed the popularity of Call Me By Your Name, adapted from Andre Aciman’s novel of the same name, to the fact that the movie is an “unabashed first-love idea everyone can identify with”. Ivory said about the romance between 17-year-old Elio and his father’s 24-year-old student Oliver, “The sexual orientation of the characters doesn’t mean as much as the emotion of the story.”
However, Ivory criticised the lack of frontal nudity in the movie, especially since his screenplay stated that Elio (Timothee Chalamet) and Oliver (Armie Hammer) would be shown naked. This detail was apparently not included in the movie because of clauses in the actors’ contracts. “When Luca says he never thought of putting nudity in, that is totally untrue,” Ivory told The Guardian. “He sat in this very room where I am sitting now, talking about how he would do it, so when he says that it was a conscious aesthetic decision not to – well, that’s just bullshit. When people are wandering around before or after making love, and they’re decorously covered with sheets, it’s always seemed phoney to me. I never liked doing that. And I don’t do it, as you know.” He pointed out that in Maurice, his 1987 movie based on EM Forster’s gay love story, “the two guys have had sex and they get up and you certainly see everything there is to be seen”. Ivory added, “To me, that’s a more natural way of doing things than to hide them, or to do what Luca did, which is to pan the camera out of the window toward some trees.”