[RIP] Memories of Ismail Merchant
- Memories of Merchant
Thursday May 26 1:32 PM ET
Gregarious producer Ismael Merchant combined a crafty sense of
Bollywood economics with highbrow artistic flair over the course of a
lengthy and illustrious career.
By Todd Gilchrist, FilmStew.com
Filmmaker Ismail Merchant passed away Wednesday in London at the age
of 68. The producer and director, who collaborated with partner James
Ivory on such films as Howard's End and The Remains of the Day, was
previously ill and recently underwent surgery for abdominal ulcers.
Merchant was born in Mumbai, India and began his film career in 1960
with The Creation of Woman, forming the next year what turned out to
be a career-long partnership with Ivory. With Merchant producing and
Ivory directing scripts by German-born screenwriter Ruth Prawer
Jhabvala, the pair went on to collaborate on more than 30 films
altogether, netting six Oscars and establishing a distinctive,
sumptuous style for their collective output. The charming and ever-
smiling Merchant was known for his cost-effective approach to
production, as well as a fiercly dedicated attention to the way his
films were marketed.
Room With a View, Howard's End and The Remains of the Day rank among
Merchant's most famous and celebrated efforts, but more recent
projects found the Merchant-Ivory style falling out of fashion.
Jefferson In Paris, Surviving Picasso and Le Divorce, an attempt at
contemporary if sophisticated comedy, all performed poorly at the box
office, and earned less acclaim than previous efforts. Meanwhile,
although 2000's The Golden Bowl was considered by critics to be a
return to form and earned a nomination at the Cannes Film Festival,
it also foundered at the box office.
In addition to the Merchant-Ivory titles, the producer's legacy will
be tied to a precedent-setting role in filmmaking. Merchant was one
of the first internationally prominent Indian producers, and
transcended his background to become one of contemporary era's most
well-reputed international producers. Merchant also occasionally
directed projects himself, including 1999's Cotton Mary, and had
plans to direct a musical titled The Goddess, featuring none other
than Tina Turner as the Hindu mother goddess Shakti.
His final producing effort, The White Countess, will see distribution
in November courtesy Sony Classics.