Ismail Merchant, producer for the very successful Merchant-Ivory partnership passed away in London at the age of 68 today. The vastness of his ouevre cannot be underestimated.
I have probably seen almost every Merchant-Ivory film. They have been seminal influences on my own perspectives of visual art. Ismail Merchant's very first film at the age of 22, "The Creation Of Woman" won him an Academy Nomination, and was the US entry to Cannes, where he met James Ivory. This was produced as a 14-minute short, while he worked for McCann-Erikson, wherein noted Indian dance maestro Bhaskar Roy Chaudhuri plays the Indian creator god Brahma, whose role encompasses the creation of Adam and Eve as well. (He earlier made "Venice: Theme and Variations" and "The Sword and the Flute" as a USC grad student - actually directed by James Ivory).
From their first feature film together, "The Householder", they formed Merchant-Ivory Productions, and began work with "the rootless intellectual" Indian English writer Ruth Prawer-Jhabwala that lasted across two decades and numerous films. This film was another seminal film, with contributions by Satyajit Ray & his cameraman Subrata Mitra(Pather Panchali). It was their next film, "Shakespeare-Wallah" however, that was a real blockbuster, and a major force for English theater on the subcontient. The dilemma of the outsider who is not one, expressed by Mrs Buckingham in the immortal ""Everything is different when you belong to a place. When it's yours." was a continuous theme of their works. Ray provided the music again.
Subsequent films explored colonization, post-colonial colonials like Sir Nirad Chaudhuri, and the first Henry James adaptation, "The Europeans" in the 1970s. It was the release of the stunning "Heat And Dust" - one film that was sorely lacking from the recent 100 great films of Time magazine. I will refrain from singing the praises of this film, but will review it soon. (AVI/MOV trailer)
Their next major film was the 1985 "A Room With A View", recreating E M Forster's very English world, that received 3 Academy Awards and numerous others.
More recent films like Keating's "The Perfect Murder", "Howards End", and "Remains Of The Day" further illustrated the creative richness of this team, the longest-lasting partnership in film history. Ismail directed at least four films himself, the most recent being Naipaul's "The Mystic Masseur". He was also an accomplished cook.
"The White Countess", based on Kazuo Ishiguro's work is now in post-production and will serve as a fitting coda to this life richly lived.
I do not believe their other in-production work, "The Goddess", starring Tina Turner on the mother-goddess Shakti was finished(recent statement from Ismail Merchant, or even started the "City of Your Final Destination".
His final destination reached, the master rests among the giants of film history, along with Manik Da, Fellini, et al.
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- Ismail Merchant, Master Filmmaker passes away
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