89-year-old James Ivory is a four-time Academy Award-winning nominee. On Monday evening, he won the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for the gay-themed Call Me By Your Name, adapted from André Aciman’s 2007 novel of the same name. Ivory was previously nominated for directing A Room With A View (1985), Howards End (1992) and The Remains Of The Day (1993). He has directed 34 films in a career that started in 1953.
For his script for Call Me By Your Name, he also won the Critics’ Choice Movie Award, Writers Guild Award, and BAFTA Award.
In his acceptance speech, Ivory said:
”All people, whether straight or gay or somewhere in between, can understand the emotions of a first love…”
James Ivory is a great American filmmaker. When asked to name a favorite film, I usually answer with A Room With A View (1985), although that choice changes from moment to moment. That film is based on the 1908 E. M. Forster novel. It was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, it won three: Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Costumes and Best Production Design. A Room With A View won BAFTA for Best Film, The National Board Of Review Best Film, and in Italy, the film won the Donatello Prize for Best Foreign Language Picture and Best Director for Ivory.
Ivory is known for his long collaboration with Indian-born film producer Ismail Merchant and screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. The trio formed Merchant Ivory Productions in 1961. Their films have won six Academy Awards. Merchant was also Ivory’s longtime partner in life and love as well as in art. Their professional and romantic partnership lasted until Merchant’s death in 20005.
Merchant Ivory will always be most noted for their smart literary adaptations, restoring characterization, subtlety and period details to films in an era of explosions, aliens and special effects escapism. At first, their films were dismissed as yawners. Yet, A Room With A View, with a production budget of $7 million, grossed $55 million and left much anticipation for the next offering, the gay-themed Maurice (1987). Maurice is an impassioned love story. The author E.M. Forster was gay guy in a period when homosexuality was a crime in Britain. He had demanded that the book, written in 1914, be published only after he died. Forster left this world in 1970.
Forster’s literary executors tried to push Merchant Ivory toward the writer’s other works. The team found it hard to find investors for their gay love story. Their collaborator, Jhabvala, declined to write the screenplay. Ivory co-wrote the script with Kit Hesketh-Harvey, an actor who had graduated from Cambridge where much of Maurice takes place. Just before shooting began, Julian Sands, who had co-starred in A Room With A View, opted out of playing the title role claiming personal reasons. Ivory was warned that during the new plague, a tale of gay passion was probably not a good bet for the box-office. The R-rated film shows men courting, kissing and making love. Ivory:
”It would be wrong to turn our faces from the homosexual community. We wanted the audience to root for a happy ending for the film’s male lovers. People should be saying: ‘I know what’s in their hearts, I can feel for them’. Although the book was written over 90 years ago, it’s completely relevant to today. The laws may have changed regarding homosexuality, but people’s feelings, the dismay, panic and compromises, they endure remain the same.”
In 1987, Maurice debuted at the Venice Film Festival where it received the Silver Lion Award for Best Film, Best Film Score and Best Actor Awards for co-stars James Wilby and Hugh Grant. The film was received excellent reviews and made a profit.
Ivory and Merchant are the most impressive, impassioned, inspired and influential gay partnership in film history. The films of Merchant Ivory will always be loved for their visually sumptuous, smartly acted period pieces of literary works produced on tiny budgets. The couple and their work are so closely intertwined that film fans assumed that ”Merchant Ivory” is the name of one individual.
Other Merchant Ivory films based on gay literary sources include their adaptations of Forster’s Howards End, Carson McCullers’ The Ballad Of The Sad Café (1991) and Henry James’ The Golden Bowl (2001).
Ivory had no problem gathering A-list actors willing to work for union scale: all of those darn Redgraves, Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson, Sam Waterston, Alan Bates, Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Bernadette Peters, Christopher Reeve, Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Anne Baxter, Stanley Tucci, Helena Bonham Carter, Daniel Day-Lewis, Julie Christie, Ralph Fiennes, Nick Nolte, Leslie Caron, and Jeremy Northam.
At the Academy Awards, Ivory memorialized his longtime creative partners during his acceptance speech:
”I wouldn’t be standing up here without their inspired help.”
Besides being the oldest ever Oscar-winner, Ivory remains the only person of any age to ever receive the Best Timothée Chalamet Tuxedo Shirt Award. 22-years-old Chalamet, nominated for Best Actor for Call Me By Your Name, is an inspiration for many reasons, even, or, especially for fashion. Ivory’s tux shirt was hand painted by artist Andrew Mania with Chalamet’s likeness.
You can even purchase one of Mania’s works on Artsy. He is noted for his ”Impossibly Handsome” series of young men in classical and neo-romantic styles.