Merchant Ivory Films

I bought The Courtesans of Bombay strictly on recognizing “Merchant-Ivory”, a name from my youth, when film critics would talk on and on about Merchant-Ivory films. The film was engaging and wonderful, and prompted me to study the film company a little.

The expression “Merchant–Ivory film” has made its way into common parlance, to denote a particular genre of film rather than the actual production company. While 1965’s Shakespeare Wallah put this genre on the international map,[2] its heyday was the 1980s and 1990s with such films as A Room with a View and Howards End. A typical “Merchant–Ivory film” would be a period piece set in the early 20th century, usually in Edwardian England, featuring lavish sets and top British actors portraying genteel characters who suffer from disillusionment and tragic entanglements.

— Wikipedia

I see why I hadn’t seen these films. They were not the kind of films I watched. They were more like the English-accented films that would be run on PBS.

Having seen Courtesans, however, I’m now intrigued. A complete filmography is up at the Merchant-Ivory website, but I’d like to focus on obtaining and watching the following US productions. Presumably, they are more available here.

As I watch these, I’ll aggregate them into a listing of movies for sale, so the entire collection, of what I’ve watched, can be purchased at once.

  • The Delhi Way
  • Savages
  • The Wild Party
  • Sweet Sounds
  • Roseland
  • The Five Forty-Eight
  • The Europeans
  • Jane Austen in Manhattan
  • The Bostonians
  • Slaves of New York
  • Mr. and Mrs. Bridge
  • The Ballad of the Sad Cafe
  • Howards End
  • Remains of the Day
  • Jefferson in Paris
  • Cotton Mary
  • The Golden Bowl
  • Mystic Masseur
  • Heights
  • The White Countess
  • The City of Your Final Destination

I figure this project should take several years.

For Sale: The Courtesans of Bombay

A More Critical Reading of “Courtesans”

This is a fictional film, but shot and edited to look like a documentary. Much of the footage is documentary footage, but the editing, and the fictional scenes, necessarily classify this as a drama, a fiction, rather than factual.

Not being a student of film, I found myself confused and conflicted. At all times, i tended to regard the story as factual and documentary. (I did enjoy the film, however.)

Documentary films are shot and edited to carefully hide the role of the filmmaker and editor. They use the authoritative narrator, unless they forego the narrator entirely, and rely entirely on filming and editing. So, to evaluate a documentary, it’s necessary to also consider the role of the filmmaker.

What is Ismail Merchant’s relation to this film? What is his relation to the class or people depicted, and the work they perform?

What is our relationship to India and what is our “Western” gaze from which we view this film and all films about India?

What is the role of fact and fiction in relating the stories of India to a Eurocentric audience?


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