FILMMAKER ISMAIL MERCHANT DIES Wednesday May 25 3:06 PM ET
Filmmaker Ismail Merchant, who with partner James Ivory became synonymous with classy costume drama in films such as "A Room With A View" and "Howards End," died Wednesday. He was 68.
Merchant died surrounded by family and friends at a hospital in London, Merchant Ivory Productions said.
"It is with great sadness that Merchant Ivory Productions announces that Ismail Merchant, our company founder and beloved producer for more than 44 years, has passed away after a brief illness in a London hospital," the production company said in a statement on its Web site.
Merchant, who was born in Bombay but spent most of his life in the West, had been ill for some time and recently underwent surgery for abdominal ulcers, according to Indian television reports.
Merchant and Ivory, an American, made some 40 films together and won six Oscars since forming their famous partnership in 1961 with German-born screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala.
Their hits especially E.M. Forster adaptations like "A Room With a View" (1985) and "Howards End" (1992) that won three Oscars apiece helped revive the public's taste for well-made, emotional period drama.
In an interview with The Associated Press last year, Merchant said Merchant-Ivory films worked because they captured great stories.
"It should be a good story speak about a time and place that is permanent," he said. "It should capture something wonderful with some great characters whether it's set in the past or in the future."
Merchant generally served as producer, the business mind behind the collaboration, while Ivory directed.
Ruth Prawer Jhabvala said his relentlessness was crucial to their success.
"Without (Ismail), we couldn't even get the things off the ground," she said in 1992. "Once he's made up his mind to make a film, he makes it. Nothing can get in his way."
Merchant first traveled to the United States in 1958 to study for a business degree at New York University but soon became involved in the film world.
He met Ivory in a New York City coffee shop in 1961. Their first film together, "The Householder," was based on a novel by Prawer Jhabvala, and its 1963 premiere was held at the residence of then-U.S. Ambassador to India John Kenneth Galbraith.
"When we first began, Ruth told us she had never written a screenplay," Merchant told AP. "That was not a problem since I had never produced a feature film and Jim had never directed one."
The movies known for their high quality and low budgets were filled with lush panoramas of English and Indian countrysides and told powerful stories of class, manners, desire and love. Prawer Jhabvala's scripts spilled over with civilized drawing-room dialogue.
Among Merchant-Ivory's other success were "[Shakespeare Wallah," "The Europeans," "Mr. and Mrs. Bridge," "The Bostonians," "Maurice" and "Quartet." They made one bomb, "Slaves of New York," in 1989.
Merchant and Ivory departed in recent years from the flawlessly appointed period films for which they were famous.
They offered their take on French farce in 2003 with "Le Divorce," starring Kate Hudson and Naomi Watts.
They also were at work on "The Goddess," a musical about the Hindu goddess Shakti, starring a singing, dancing Tina Turner. Also to be released is "The White Countess," a period drama set in China and starring Ralph Fiennes, Vanessa Redgrave and Natasha Richardson.
Merchant was unmarried and had no children. * * * * * * * *
Posts: 3385 | From: Sacramento, California, USA | Registered: Sep 2002 | Site Updates: 0
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I am sorry to say that I haven't even heard of this guy at all. I have heard of Howard's End and Room with a View but his name isn't even familiar to me at all.
Posts: 5259 | From: KANSAS | Registered: Sep 2003 | Site Updates: 2
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Thank you so much for this post. I was saddened too to hear that such a great producer had passed away at such a young age. I absolutely love Room with a View, Howards End and Mr & Mrs Bridge. There are still other works I've not seen. He will be very missed I am sure. Interesting that he made so many quintessential British films and yet wasn't British. As they say, it is perspective that makes a truly great film maker. Maybe that was why Sam Mendes triumphed with American Beauty, Mina Nair with Monsoon Wedding and Vanity Fair and many more expat directors win oscars for their work. What a wonderful legacy Ismail Merchant left us!
Posts: 327 | From: Australia | Registered: Mar 2005 | Site Updates: 1
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