I just learned via Roger Simon that Ismail Merchant, whom Roger describes as “one of the great producers of our time,” has died. Once again, Roger’s right. Merchant was truly a gifted filmmaker, having produced numerous excellent films including A Room with a View, Howard’s End, The Remains of the Day and, of particular interest to readers of this blog, Maurice.
While Merchant has justly earned many accolades for his work, including four Academy Award nominations, I want to highlight that last-mentioned film, one of the few movies which is actually better than the book upon which it is based. Together with his directing partner, James Ivory, Merchant took E.M. Forster‘s second-rate gay novel and turned it into a first-rate film. The movie touchingly tells the story of a young man (James Whilby‘s Maurice Hall) coming to terms with his sexuality through his feelings for his college friend (the ever-fetching Hugh Grant as Clive Durham).
Maurice ranks as one of (if not the) most sensitive gay films and was produced at a time before gay cinema was in vogue. It took courage to produce such a film at that time, one of the first gay-themed filmed produced by a major production company. A pioneering achievement.
You can read more about Merchant’s many accomplishments on the Merchant Ivory web-page as well as here, here and here. I think a better tribute would be to watch his movies, to appreciate their quality, particularly as they highlight the tension between love and social convention, how they show, through the stories Merchant and Ivory so brilliantly adapted to the screen, why it is better to choose love.
Thank you, Ismail Merchant, for your many high-quality films. And this blogger offers a special word of thanks for the tenderness with which you portrayed gay love in Maurice and how you gave this film, of particular interest to men like me, a universal theme — and one consistent with that of your great body of work. That love is a greater good than social convention. Thank you, Ismail Merchant. May many filmmakers be inspired by your achievements. And may many audiences continue to delight in your work.
-Dan (AKA GayPatriotWest): GayPatriotWest@aol.com