Born on June 7, 1928, James Ivory, full name James Francis Ivory, is known as an American director. He was born in Berkley, California, United States, to Edward Patrick and Hallie Millicent Ivory. His father was of humble profession of a saw mill operator. Though he was born in Berkley, he grew up in Oregon, and went to the University of Oregon, School of Architecture and Fine Arts, graduating from there in 1951 with a degree in Fine Arts. To pursue higher education, he attended the USC School of Cinematic Arts in California, where he learned the craft of cinematography. As his thesis for graduation, he made a thirty minute documentary on the city of Venice, a city he had fallen in love with at his first visit as a tourist at the age of 22, he said in an interview. His idea and inspiration behind the film was his own, and he returned to Venice in 1952, with no help, no crew, no sound support, no stars, but a 16 mm camera and a desire to capture the city’s beauty. Without any actors, Mr. Ivory decides that his stars would be the great painters of the city. The documentary was titled “Venice: Theme and Variations”.He shot in the Scalera studio after being permitted by the Academia, and after renting a few electricians captured the beauteous works of art. His documentary was greatly appreciated for its details, and was named by New York Times among the ten best non-theatrical films of the year, in the year 1957. He graduated from the University of South California in 1957.
James Ivory is known best for his coalition with
Ismail Merchant to found the prestigious banner of Merchant Ivory Productions, a house which is known for its somber, meaningful content and character drove plot. The company materialized in 1961, with both the directors filming movies set in India. The tie-up happened when Ivory met Merchant in NYC, for the screening of Ivory’s documentary, “The Storm and the Flute” in 1959. And it went on for forty- four long years, until Ismail Merchant died in 2005.
Ivory told in an interview that they began with movies set in India, with an Indian component, and then moved to the United States. The duo together made over forty films during their time together, the screenplay was mostly written by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. The first film together was “The Householder,” which starred Shashi Kapoor, the Bollywood icon, in 1963. This film was followed by an distinct documentary by Ivory, about Delhi, entitled, “The Delhi Way” in 1964. “Shakespeare Wallah,” another work by Ruth came out in 1965, starring once again Shashi Kapoor alongside Felicity Kendal. Many such movies and TV shows were released in the ensuing years, and there was no looking back for James Ivory, the son of a saw mill operator.
He states in an interview that he initially started with the adaptations of novels by Henry James. These included “The Europeans,” and “The Bostonians.” However, soon Ivory was enamored with the beauty of “A Passage to India,” the prize-winning novel by E.M Forster. But, tells Ivory, that
Satyajit Ray, the iconic Bengali director, too had his eyes set for the adaptation of the novel and had also gone to talk to Mr. Forster, who was then alive. Mr. Forster, however, did not want his book converted into movie, and so refused permission to Ray. Ivory says that he felt if Satyajit Ray had not persisted in his attempt, then he should not either. But, soon his attention was captured by “A Room with a View,” another novel by E.M Forster. James was taken with the novel, and it took him back to Italy where he hadn’t been in many years. “A Room with a View” was the first of Forster’s books that was made into a movie, and also won many awards for best film.Other adaptations of Forster’s novels were “Maurice” in the year 1987, and “Howards End” in 1992, while works of
Anita Desai, “In Custody,” (1994), V.S Naipaul, “The Mystic Masseur,” (2002) and another by Henry James, “The Golden Bowl,” (2001) were also made into films. In 1993, Ivory won the London Film Critic’s Award for Director of the Year, for the movie, “The Remains of the Day.”
When asked by an interviewer as to what set the rhythm for the typical Merchant Ivory Films formula for a movie, Ivory confesses that there hadn’t been any initially. They had worked on arbitrary projects, set in different places with a different plot. But eventually, and co-incidentally, the style of their productions was finally embedded. He accords the all-inclusive success of Merchant Ivory Films to the formula of the movies, which is based on the ingredients, which, he counts are “a good, mature story, really good characters for the story, the best actors for the characters, the best camera-men and really, really good designers.” He also says that despite the trend of superhero movies and those with a fantastic setting that have gained currency recently, the character-driven plot and films would never go out of style, and would always make themselves visible, provided they have the magnetic substance which would capture the attention of the audience. He lauds “
Slumdog Millionaire,” saying that until the release of the movie, it was impossible to set a movie in India and have American audience like it. But since it had everything in the right amount, the movie won the Oscar award.