Friday, August 19, 2022

Book Review: Solid but Scattered Ivory

Taken out of the Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts. Jumbled, entertaining but ultimately disappointing memoir of the Oscar-winning director and screenwriter James Ivory. The first half of the book concentrates on Ivory's early life in Oregon, charting his journey of artistic and sexual self-discovery. Lots of descriptions of sexual organs of boys he had crushes on. Then we get unrelated chapters on parties, apartments lived in, cities like Venice and Kabul, descriptions of furniture and possessions, friends, gossip, anecdotes. In the back pages is a list of where these pieces originally appeared. They are letters, diary entries, contributions to anthologies, even introductions for an auction catalogue. I suppose that's where the editor Peter Cameron comes in. He must have worked with Ivory on assembling the pieces and putting them in order. There is very little of Ivory's illustrious and varied film career apart from in-depth portraits of Vanessa Redgrave and Raquel Welch (the latter is an excerpt from a collection of essays on movie stars). So we do get extensive background on the filming of The Bostonians (for which Redgrave was nominated for an Oscar), Redgrave's lawsuit against the Boston Symphony for firing her for her pro-Palestinian politics, and Welch's difficult behavior on The Wild Party. There's also a chapter on winning his only Oscar for writing the screenplay of Call Me By Your Name and the making of that film. He was to have co-directed it, but he got dropped before filming began.

Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward
in Mr. and Mrs. Bridge.
Apart from brief mentions there's nothing on Shakespeare Wallah, A Room With a View, Howard's End, Mr. and Mrs. Bridge (what was it like to work with Newman and Woodward???), Maurice, Roseland, Slaves of New York, Jefferson in Paris, The Remains of the Day, Surviving Picasso, etc. etc. We can fill in some of the blanks with the recent HBO Max series on the Newmans, but Mr. and Mrs. Bridge was not given the same detailed treatment director Ethan Hawke lavished on such pix as The Stripper, A New Kind of Love and Winning which have fallen into obscurity.

Ivory does devote a chapter to his producing partner and lover Ismail Merchant, but we don't get a deep sense of their relationship. We get facts about how they met and where they lived, but there's a lot missing. We learn more about how Ivory felt about bed buddies like the writer Bruce Chatwin with whom he carried on a long-term affair while he was with Merchant (it appears that was an open relationship) and unrequited amours from high school and college. For a complete biography, I guess we'll have to wait for an ambitious outside author. Or perhaps Ivory will produce a separate book, detailing his work on each of his many films overlooked in Solid Ivory.

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