Producer Merchant Speaks On Film-Making Career
Producer Ismail Merchant of Merchant-Ivory Productions recounted anecdotes from his career for an audience of 100 at the Law School last night.
In a series of humorous stories, Merchant described his movie-making career and the growth of his partnership with James Ivory. The two have collaborated on such movies as "Howard's End," "Remains of the Day" and the recently released "Jefferson in Paris."
Merchant, who received an Oscar nomination for best short film when he was only 21, said he was inspired to go into film-making when he saw "Somebody Up There Likes You," starring Paul Newman during his childhood in Bombay, India.
"My father wanted me to be a lawyer or a doctor, but I wanted to go to Hollywood," Merchant said.
Merchant started his presentation by showing the audience a poster of the "Merchant-Ivory Productions Tree."
The roots were labeled with the names of famous authors such as E.M. Foster, Anita Desai, and Henry James, on whose works many of his movies have been based.
"A tree can flourish only if you have strong roots," Merchant said. "The director is indebted to the writ- er for the rest of his life."
Merchant said he tried to make "intelligentfilms" and not to produce movies for "brainlesspeople."
Merchant said the proliferation of mindlessmovies reflects a change in American society.
"The values of Americans have gone down. Withpeople like the Republicans in power what can youdo?"
He said he disliked the special effects andcomputer imaging which have permeated recentmovies. He emphasized the simplicity which ischaracteristic of Merchant-Ivory films.
"We have our heads on our shoulders, our feeton our grounds, and we are very happy," Merchantsaid.
Merchant expressed the irony of his 33-yearpartnership with Ivory and screenwriter RuthPrawer Jhabvala. Merchant is an Indian Muslim,Ivory is an American of Irish origin and Jhabwalais a Jew of Polish descent. The three havecombined to produce "the quintessential Britishfilms," he said.
"We inspire each other to bring out the best inthe other person," Merchant said.
Merchant-Ivory Productions is currently workingon restoring the film collection of Indianproducer Satyajit Ray. After running in New YorkCity for six months, the films will be played atHarvard for six months.
The Merchant-Ivory Productions will be workingon the making of a new film--"Picasso"--in thenear future, he said.
Merchant also fondly recalled his ownconnection to Harvard.
When he was producing "The Bostonians"then-Harvard President Derek C. Bok helped himacquire an $800,000 loan from the Bank of Boston.
"My debt to Derek Bok will bring me here freeof cost," said Merchant joking.
Most members of the audience were captivated byMerchant's speech.
"He was an incredibly engaging speaker. He hasa lot of passion and a lot of heart," said MarilynI. Byrne, a secretary at the Law School.
"He's really intelligent and charming. I wish Ihad a dream like that and I could go after it,"said Ayla A. Lari, a first-year student at the LawSchool