Frameline48: Merchant Ivory

When budding filmmakers James Ivory and Ismail Merchant, both quietly but openly gay, met in London in 1961, the sparks flew — “not love at first sight, maybe at second,” says Ivory in this revelatory documentary. As a couple, they made 43 films over four decades — including A Room with a View (1985), Howards End (1992), and groundbreaking gay romance Maurice (1987). Their names conjure up sumptuous costumes, slyly subversive scripts, and legendary performances from Helena Bonham Carter, Emma Thompson, and Vanessa Redgrave — all giving dishy interviews here.

Ivory, buttoned-up son of an Oregon lumber baron, was a fastidious director, finessing every detail down to the haircuts on the extras. Producer Merchant, born to Muslims in Mumbai, was dashing and charismatic; Anthony Hopkins said he could “charm the birds from the trees.” Their relationship was polyamorous, and their sets, says Hugh Grant, “crackled with subliminal lust.” After Merchant’s untimely death, Ivory won a screenwriting Oscar for Call Me by Your Name, embracing overdue recognition as a beacon of queer cinema. Merchant Ivory peels back the dusty curtains to celebrate the flesh and blood beneath the silk.

1h 52m
Stephen Soucy
First Showing
June 22, 2024