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James Ivory in Conversation

How Merchant Ivory Makes Its Movies

Robert Emmet Long

Publication Year: 2005

James Ivory in Conversation is an exclusive series of interviews with a director known for the international scope of his filmmaking on several continents. Three-time Academy Award nominee for best director, responsible for such film classics as A Room with a View and The Remains of the Day, Ivory speaks with remarkable candor and wit about his more than forty years as an independent filmmaker. In this deeply engaging book, he comments on the many aspects of his world-traveling career: his growing up in Oregon (he is not an Englishman, as most Europeans and many Americans think), his early involvement with documentary films that first brought attention to him, his discovery of India, his friendships with celebrated figures here and abroad, his skirmishes with the Picasso family and Thomas Jefferson scholars, his usually candid yet at times explosive relations with actors. Supported by seventy illuminating photographs selected by Ivory himself, the book offers a wealth of previously unavailable information about the director's life and the art of making movies.

James Ivory on:

On the Merchant Ivory Jhabvala partnership:

"I've always said that Merchant Ivory is a bit like the U. S. Govenment; I'm the President, Ismail is the Congress, and Ruth is the Supreme Court. Though Ismail and I disagree sometimes, Ruth acts as a referee, or she and I may gang up on him, or vice versa. The main thing is, no one ever truly interferes in the area of work of the other."

On Shooting Mr. and Mrs. Bridge:

"Who told you we had long 18 hour days? We had a regular schedule, not at all rushed, worked regular hours and had regular two-day weekends, during which the crew shopped in the excellent malls of Kansas City, Paul Newman raced cars somewhere, unknown to us and the insurance company, and I lay on a couch reading The Remains of the Day."

On Jessica Tandy as Miss Birdseye in The Bostonians:

"Jessica Tandy was seventy-two or something, and she felt she had to 'play' being an old woman, to 'act' an old woman. Unfortunately, I'couldn't say to her, 'You don't have to 'act' this, just 'be,' that will be sufficient.' You can't tell the former Blanche Du Bois that she's an old woman now."

On Adapting E. M. Forster's novels

"His was a very pleasing voice, and it was easy to follow. Why turn his books into films unless you want to do that? But I suppose my voice was there, too; it was a kind of duet, you could say, and he provided the melody."

On India:

"If you see my Indian movies then you get some idea of what it was that attracted me about India and Indians...any explanation would sound lamer than the thing warrants. The mood was so great and overwhelming that any explanation of it would seem physically thin....I put all my feeling about India into several Indian films, and if you know those films and like them, you see from these films what it was that attracted me to India."

On whether he was influenced by Renoir in filming A Room with a View

"I was certainly not influenced by Renoir in that film. But if you put some good looking women in long white dresses in a field dotted with red poppies, andthey're holding parasols, then people will say, ‘Renoir.’"

On the Critics:

"I came to believe that to have a powerful enemy like Pauline Kael only made me stronger. You know, like a kind of voodoo. I wonder if it worked that way in those days for any of her other victims—Woody Allen, for instance, or Stanley Kubrick."

On Andy Warhol as a dinner guest:

"I met him many times over the last twenty years of his life, but I can't say I knew him, which is what most people say, even those who were his intimates. Once he came to dinner with a group of his Factory friends at my apartment. I remember that he or someone else left a dirty plate, with chicken bones and knife and fork, in my bathroom wash basin. It seemed to be a symbolic gesture, to be a matter of style, and not just bad manners."

Published by: University of California Press


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

There is a perfect Merchant Ivory moment midway through Quartet, theirménage-à-trois story set in Paris in the 1920s. Beautiful, hapless Marya Zellihas wandered into the orbit of a powerful and urbane English couple. WhileH. J. Heidler (Alan Bates) prepares to make the inevitable move on his house-guest (after all, she is played in alluring if desolate fashion by Isabelle Adjani),...

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Setting the Scene

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pp. 1-26

Robert Emmet Long: Merchant Ivory is known to be the independent film pro-duction team of the last few decades, achieving its success on its own, outsidethe Hollywood studio system—or maybe in defiance of it. But, in fact, whathas your experience with Hollywood been like? What sort of dealings have youJames Ivor y: There has been this idea—people have often spoken or written in...

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The Early Years

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pp. 27-42

...James Ivory: Well, lots of American artists who have done all kinds of things have come from the most unlikely little American town; and have made their trek first from their little town to New York, and from New York to Europe, making their name along the way, or maybe even making it in Europe. I’m just one of those kinds of people. Long: You’ve said that Klamath...

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Documentaries, 1952–1972

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pp. 43-64

...James Ivory: There weren’t that many, perhaps, but enough to make up a kind of subgenre. That was a time when people liked to make films about artists and works of art. One of the attractions was that they didn’t cost much money to make. You had to choose a theme carefully and then usually concentrate on one work of art, and explain it and analyze it. Your audience was in museums, schools, and once in a while in theaters. Those were the days when shorts were still shown along with a feature in art houses...

Feature Films

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pp. 67-116

...brought it back to New York to edit, and then I decided that I really needed to do more work on it, that I hadn’t got all I wanted—and at that point I met Ismail. I introduced him to some people here in New York who wanted to make a feature film in India. One of them was the anthropologist Gitel Steed. She had written a script called...

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pp. 117-196

...Long: What is touching about this group of characters is that they have such a tenuous life. They become civilized people only briefly, during a single day, and they are gone again, back into prehistory. Yet I don’t remember any reviewer commenting on this quality of group poignancy. I find it more touching than the decline and fall of Jolly Grimm...

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pp. 197-253

...Ivory:Well, his energy and good humor—a cameraman needs a large supply of both. And then he has a superlative technical grasp of everything; he’s an impeccable perfectionist, but at the same time, as I say, he has such high spirits, such energy. Nothing is too much for him, nothing is impossible. He will try anything you want, and I’ve worked...

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pp. 254-328

...Yes and no. The failure to have an exact understanding of the language is a drawback for me sometimes; my French ought by now to be more fluent, seeing that I’ve been going to France for half a century. I have a good ear, but I’m lazy; a pretty good accent, but a bad memory. On the other hand, it’s a real pleasure to work with a French crew—perhaps the greatest. In a very democratic way—not usual in England...


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pp. 329-338

Photography Credits

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pp. 339-339

E-ISBN-13: 9780520940369
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520234154

Page Count: 350
Publication Year: 2005

OCLC Number: 191952989
MUSE Marc Record: Download for James Ivory in Conversation