James Ivory (1928-) b. Berkeley, California, USA.
Elegance, taste, care and an eye for the recreation of times past drape almost all the work of this American-born director who has ranged from India to England and back to America depicting the moods, manners, milieu and morals of enclosed societies whose members are pinned like butterflies and ruthlessly dissected for our inspection. After years of work in this field of human entomology, Ivory produced two masterworks in the early 1990s. After studying fine arts at university, Ivory’s first intention was to become a set designer -small wonder that the production design of his films is always so aesthetically pleasing -but later studied film, made some independent shorts (one of which was about Indian art objects) and then undertook a career-forming journey to India in 1960, initially to make a documentary there. He became fascinated by the Indian way of life, and by the collision between eastern and western cultures there. His films have expressed this clash of directions, although Shakespeare-Wallah (1965), set against the adventures of a rather down-at-heel group of British strolling players, was undoubtedly the most accessible to western eyes. Ivory managed to probe deep into the qualities of Indian life, without coming to such down-to-earth, even cynical terms with them as Satyajit Ray, the native Indian director whose work Ivory so much admired. Since 1972, Ivory has spent more and more time back in America. His films, it seems predetermined by exhibitors, are not for the box-office masses there, or elsewhere come to that. Perhaps, in view of the unhappy failure of The Guru (1969) and The Wild Party (1975), they are right. But such Ivory offerings as Autobiography of a Princess (1975) and Roseland (1977) are well worth seeking out. Later, some of his films received their initial showing on television, a medium to whose intimacy Ivory’s style seems ideally suited. The Europeans (1979) though, a graceful film full of richness and delicacy and the best expression of Henry James’ work on screen, catching exactly the flavour and intimations of James’ writing, remains best seen in a cinema. But critics expressed disappointment with Ivory’s next cinema offering, Quartetv (1981). He was soon to turn the tables on them. After his three chosen paths – India, the nostalgic past and the literary – collided in the hypnotic Heat and Dust (1983), Ivory hit a magic ten-year run which included Academy Award nominations for A Room with a View (1985), Howards End (1992) and The Remains of the Day (1993). The first two were both adaptations from the work of E.M. Forster, and won several acting Oscars, while the latter, an exquisite study of repressed emotions, is possibly his best film, He has fallen a little from those peaks since, but his work remains pictorially stunning. The Golden Bowl (2000), was another star-studded Henry James adaptation but one that proved too intricate for Merchant-Ivory to film in an engaging manner.