Who says old gay guys can’t do it any more?
Critics have already hailed Call Me By Your Name as a masterpiece, and the film continues to rack up nominations and prizes even before a nationwide release.
But a closer look at the screenwriter behind the film makes that feat all the more remarkable. James Ivory, the California-born and out-queer writer/director has done some of his best work of his storied career at the tender age of 89 (just 72years older that Call Me‘s 17-year-old lead character, Elio Perlman, played by Timothee Chalamet, for those keeping track). In fact, the writer-director-producer has an additional four projects in various stages of development, signaling that he has no intention of slowing down any time soon.
Call Me By Your Name marks something of a departure for Ivory, who usually directs his own scripts. With Call Me By Your Name, he collaborates with out-gay Italian director Luca Guadagnino. Together, working from a novel by sexually fluid author Andre Aciman, Guadagnino and Ivory have crafted a coming-of-age masterpiece, and one about a gay man at that.
Ivory became known for his collaborations with his Indian producing partner and sometime boyfriend, Ismail Merchant. Together the pair produced a number of high-profile and Oscar winning films throughout the 1980s and 90s, which became known as a subgenre: Merchant-Ivory films. The Merchant-Ivory collaboration earned praise for lavish historical dramas critiquing English culture (neither Merchant nor Ivory is English, though their movies feel unabashedly European), and a reputation for costume drama tone. The incredibly naturalistic, erotic and sensual tone of Call Me is definitely a departure that audiences will welcome.
At the same time, Call Me fits as a natural evolution of Ivory’s filmography. Especially those produced by Merchant, his films focus on characters enslaved by societal expectations, suppressed emotions and strict class and gender conduct. The drama in Call Me throbs with all of these themes–feelings that queer people have long struggled with–but in a more liberated time and place.
In that sense, all of Ivory’s seminal movies have a sneaking queer current, sometimes literal, and others, metaphorical. That Ivory doesn’t get mentioned alongside other queer filmmakers like Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven), Vincentte Minnelli (Meet Me in St. Louis), John Waters (Hairspray) or Bill Condon (Dreamgirls) is a gross injustice. Moreover, Ivory has spent his entire career as an out-gay man, even during the era of AIDS, the Moral Majority and Reagan, when coming out could mean career suicide for a filmmaker. (Ivory was one of the earliest critics of serial sexual assailant Harvey Weinstein as a bully and “asshole.”)
Since three time Oscar nominee octogenarian Ivory seems poised to score a fourth with his screenplay for Call Me By Your Name, we thought we’d take a retrospective look at the career of this revolutionary but often overlooked queer cinematic luminary.
Pour a glass of fine wine to go with slab of well aged cheese and grab the Kleenex (trust us) to have a look-see at the essential work of the great James Ivory.
1. Call Me By Your Name
This tender coming-of-age tale of desire, coming out and heartache has already sparked a good deal of discussion over its attractive leads, and career-making performances (including a reduced supporting turn by Armie Hammer’s scrotum). Yet the film’s honesty and bittersweetness in telling a queer love story sets Call Me By Your Name apart from other films in the genre. Critics are citing it as Ivory’s sensual masterpiece as a writer.
Speaking of the gays, Ivory directed this tear-jerking period piece about a gay man trying to live an out life in heavily-repressed post-World War I Britain. Based on an incendiary novel by gay writer E.M. Forester, Maurice features hunky James Wilby in the title role and a gorgeous Hugh Grant as his boyfriend. Furthermore, Maurice features a happy ending—something unheard of in films about gay characters at the time, and revolutionary in its source novel. Ivory observed that the illegality of homosexuality kept the novel unpublished during Forester’s lifetime, because “if he’d published the novel with homosexual acts in which these criminals had a happy ending, he thought he’d be arrested for obscenity.”
3. A Room With a View
Ivory issued a scathing indictment of the British class system with this adaptation of another E.M. Forester novel that explored the director’s standard themes: unsaid love, hypocrisy, desire and liberation. With a cast that includes Maggie Smith, Daniel Day-Lewis and Judi Dench, A Room With A View made Helena Bonham Carter into a full-fledged star, and nabbed Ivory a Best Director Oscar nomination.
4. Howard’s End
Emma Thompson took home a Best Actress Oscar for her performance as a heiress robbed of her inheritance in yet another adaptation of an E.M Forester novel. Ivory directed from a script by longtime screenwriting collaborator Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, attacking hypocrisies among the English social classes, and giving Thompson and Anthony Hopkins each one of their best roles. And that, folks, says something.
5. The Remains of the Day
Thompson and Hopkins struck again, as did Ivory with this heartbreaking drama about unrequited love between a butler and a housekeeper—two people who bury their feelings as a means of survival in war torn Britain. Though Hopkins, Thompson and Ivory all scored deserved Oscar nominations, today the film has another treasure: a fantastic performance by the late Christopher Reeve, which sparked a comeback as an indie film darling before his tragic accident derailed his career.
6. The Wild Party
This forgotten musical, itself an adaptation of the epic poem that spawned two more musicals—one on Broadway, one off—plays as an ode to and condemnation of Old Hollywood decadence. Featuring one of Raquel Welch’s best roles, The Wild Party, though flawed, deserves a look.
Oh, and it has an epic orgy scene. So, there’s that.