James Ivory on Call Me By Your Name, relationship with Ismail Merchant, and future projects
In a poignant new interview, James Ivory disclosed why he and Ismail Merchant never publicly acknowledged they were a couple, and what the success of Call Me By Your Name has made possible
In the late 1960s-70s in India, working in a 'cross-over film' meant being part of a Merchant Ivory Production. To star in a film made by the Merchant Ivory banner was a matter of great prestige, with global recognition.
The Merchant Ivory brand may have faded somewhat over the years, but life came full circle when James Ivory's won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay (for Call Me By Your Name) at the 2018 Academy Awards.
In a poignant interview with The Guardian, Ivory spoke about a number of things: on writing the screenplay for the Luca Guadagnino-directed Call Me By Your Name, his close-yet-clandestine relationship with partner Ismail Merchant, and projects there has been renewed interest in after his recent success.
On Call Me By Your Name:
Despite the acclaim for the film, 89-year-old Ivory has a bone to pick with director Guadagnino on the portrayal of nudity — or lack thereof. "That seems phoney to me," says Ivory of Guadagnino's decision to have no full frontal nudity even when depicting intimate moments between the protagonists — Elio (played by Timothée Chalamet) and Oliver (played by Armie Hammer) — in the film based on the 2007 novel of the same name by André Aciman.
Ivory says it's more natural that people be shown naked after they make love on screen, than being "decorously covered with sheets". He didn't like the way Guadagnino panned the camera out of the window to avoid showing nudity.
On his relationship with Ismail Merchant:
Writing a screenplay with characters so open about their sexuality seems an easier task in this age. The world was far more orthodox when Ivory was younger. Ivory's relationship with his partner Ismail Merchant was a matter of major speculation during their heyday. They, however, preferred to keep their relationship under wraps in order to avoid any backlash.
Ivory says (of why he and Merchant never publicly acknowledged being a couple), "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 [sic], 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," as quoted by The Guardian.
On what lies ahead:
Ivory says the success of Call Me By Your Name has revived interest in several projects he had to shelve. A film on Richard II, an idea that germinated in the late 1990s, might soon come to fruition as the script is being read and discussed presently. Then, there's a film by Downsizing director Alexander Payne, that Ivory will write the screenplay for. It's special because the film is based on the short story, The Judge's Will, written by old Ivory-Merchant collaborator Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (two-time Oscar winner for Best Adapted Screenplay).
Ivory also alluded to a tentative return of Daniel Day-Lewis in a film where he will possibly be seen in the role of a detective. When Ivory was told that the actor has announced his retirement, he quipped, "(Day-Lewis) retired once before to become a shoemaker in Italy and luckily he didn’t persist at that, so hopefully this is short-term too."
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