Friday, March 26, 2021 - 6:00pm
CinemaLit Film Series
March 2021 – Merchant Ivory from Page to Screen
To cineastes worldwide, the filmmaking brand "Merchant Ivory" may conjure images of British period dramas with stiff collars, chintz teacups, and slow pulse acting. Scratch below the surface and there's a lot more going on.
Producer Ismail Merchant (1936-2005) and director James Ivory (born 1928) delivered over forty films in their four-decade partnership. Despite their established reputation for British settings, their films are multinational in scope. Neither men were British by birth. Merchant was Muslim born and raised in Bombay, while Ivory is from the San Francisco Bay Area, schooled at the University of Oregon and USC. Their frequent screenwriting collaborator, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (1927-2013), was born Jewish in Cologne. Two films in this month's series, Heat and Dust (1983) and The Bostonians (1984), barely set foot in England. The other two, Maurice (1987) and Howards End (1992), are closer to the image many hold of Merchant Ivory films as stylistic precursors to contemporary television fare such as Downton Abbey and The Crown.
In looking at these four films, certain themes emerge. All concern themselves with the politics of sex, wealth, and class. All illuminate loners and outsiders whose passions run against the oppressive expectations of society, with some finding a measure of happiness in open rebellion. All look exceedingly posh on limited budgets, and are cast with big-name movie stars who took salary cuts so as to attach their names to literate and worthwhile projects. And all are based on novels, one by Jhabvala and Henry James, and two by E. M. Forster. You are invited to read the novels to enrich your experience. Or not – these exquisite films very much stand on their own.
March 26 - Howards End (1992) – 143 minutes
Howards End is "my best novel and approaching a good novel," said a customarily modest E. M. Forster. Published in 1910, its epigraph "Only connect…" is deliciously ambiguous. Does it reference the eternal struggle of head and heart, passion and reason? Or is it a plea to reach across gender, affluence, and social class in a cruelly stratified society? Or is it both, and/or something else?
The film version of Howards End is arguably Merchant Ivory's masterpiece. Forster's story perfectly matched the filmmakers' tastes and sensibilities. The bourgeoisie Schlegel sisters, English bred but of proud German ancestry, become entangled with the wealthy and conservative Wilcox family and the poor bank clerk Leonard Bast. Their actions swirl around Howards End, the Wilcox's idyllic country home, in unimagined ways. The film captures the book's many twists and turns, consistent in its wit, irony, and strong dramatic structure to the last shot.
Howards End comes laden with a powerhouse cast, including Emma Thompson, Vanessa Redgrave, Anthony Hopkins, and Helena Bonham Carter. It was a major critical and financial triumph, earning back more than three times its cost at the box office. It scored nine Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Director, and won for Art Direction, Adapted Screenplay by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, and Actress Thompson in the pivotal role of the indomitable Margaret Schlegel. In her classy acceptance speech, Thompson first thanked Forster, then finished by dedicating her Oscar to "the heroism and the courage of women, and to hope that it inspires the creation of more true screen heroines to represent them."
Matthew Kennedy, CinemaLit’s curator, has written biographies of Marie Dressler, Joan Blondell, and Edmund Goulding. His book Roadshow! The Fall of Film Musicals in the 1960s, was the basis of a film series on Turner Classic Movies.
“I don't have a favorite film,” Matthew says. "I find that my relationships to films, actors, genres, and directors change as I change over the years. Some don't hold up. Some look more profound, as though I've caught up with their artistry. I feel that way about Garbo, Cary Grant, director John Cassavetes, and others."
“Classic films have historical context, something only time can provide,” Matt observes. “They become these great cultural artifacts, so revealing of tastes, attitudes, and assumptions.”
INSTRUCTIONS FOR JOINING THE CINEMALIT SALON
First watch the selected film on Kanopy. All you will need is either a Mechanics' Institute library card, or a San Francisco Public Library card, which will give you access to Kanopy and its treasure trove of movies. Make a reservation for our CinemaLit Salon as usual via Eventbrite and watch the film on Kanopy at your leisure. You will receive a link to the Friday night CinemaLit salon on Zoom one day in advance, and then an additional reminder roughly two hours in advance. On the night of the salon click the Zoom link and join us.
If you do not receive a Zoom Link by 4:00 PM on the day of the event, contact Pam Troy at [email protected]
Mechanics’ Institute members can now sign up for FREE access to Kanopy, a wonderful film streaming service. To sign up:
1. Click on THIS LINK.
2. Click on the large orange login button that reads, “Log in to milibrary.”
3. Enter the 14-digit bar code from your MI Library card
4. Set up your account following Kanopy’s instructions, including your email and a password.
5. Kanopy will send verification to your email address.
You’ll be able to choose from a wonderful selection of films, including classics, pre-code, foreign films, and documentaries, including the films we’ve scheduled this month for CinemaLit.
If you are not a Mechanics’ Institute member, consider membership and click HERE to join online:
Or, you can check with your public library to see if they are Kanopy members. If so, you may use your public library card to set up a Kanopy account.
Register with Eventbrite below.
If the green TICKET button is not immediately visible, scroll down on the right in the Eventbrite window until it appears.
Future CinemaLit Films
Mar 5 - 6:00pm
Mar 12 - 6:00pm
Mar 19 - 6:00pm
Apr 2 - 6:00pm