James Ivory, Famous for Buttoned-Up Films, Is Frank About Sex and Much Else in His Memoir

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  • Nov. 1, 2021, 2:40 p.m. ET
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The movie manager James Ivory is astir intimately associated with decorous play pieces, paeans to inhibition similar “Howards End” and “The Remains of the Day,” truthful I wasn’t expecting his memoirs to beryllium rather specified a “Remembrance of Penises Past.”

At young Jim’s simple schoolhouse successful Klamath Falls, Ore., aft formative comparisons astatine the urinals, helium watched a playmate instrumentality his “cherubic (and uncircumcised) member” successful the hillside ungraded to show big intersexual congress. In precocious school, helium encountered “a dangling pinkish foreskin that I inactive recall, shaped similar the ones connected past marble statues illustrated successful our transcript of Will Durant’s ‘The Life of Greece,’” and heatedly observed the backstage parts of identical-twin antheral cheerleaders, Ted and Fred, turning “a heavy purple” successful a tanning booth astatine the gym. Granted a person look astatine Ted’s “heavy, charged-looking” equipment, of the “garden-hose variety,” helium felt his “mouth spell dry” and his “hands shake.” Furtive orgasms began to abound.

Though Ivory was a 118-pound teenage weakling uninterested successful athletics, an approving steam-room glimpse from his father, who ran a lumber company, assured the lad that his ain endowment (cut, a favoritism of immoderate socioeconomic preoccupation) was much than adequate. By movie school, astatine the University of Southern California, Ivory was assessing with a connoisseur’s aerial a pal’s “very shapely American frat-boy” arousal, “to my oculus the champion of the nationalist norm.” How did the English question writer Bruce Chatwin, a aboriginal lover, rate? “Uncut, rosy, schoolboy-looking,” similar notes connected a good wine.

Born Richard Jerome Hazen and renamed arsenic an babe by his adoptive parents, Ivory is present 93. There is simply a wistful defiance to his intersexual frankness arsenic a Protestant cheery antheral who came of property successful an epoch of aggravated repression, arsenic good arsenic the Depression (his parent regularly fed “tramps,” helium writes, connected the family’s backmost porch). Throughout his vocation helium felt compelled to underplay the astir important romanticist narration of his life: the 1 with his gregarious producing partner, Ismail Merchant, a Muslim from Mumbai whom helium met connected the steps of the Indian consulate successful New York. Why isn’t determination a plaque commemorating this, wonders Ivory, the recipient of respective Oscars, astir precocious for the screenplay of “Call Me by Your Name.” Despite his laurels, Ivory nevertheless seems to person a spot connected his enarthrosis astir reductive assessments of the couple’s variegated oeuvre, similar the oft-repeated scoff that they came from the “Laura Ashley schoolhouse of filmmaking.” (All critics are a “lesser signifier of life,” helium erstwhile declared astatine a luncheon party.)

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Merchant and Ivory, usually moving with the writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, were 1 of the astir ascendant cinematic forces of the precocious 20th century, rolling retired luxuriously appointed adaptations of E.M. Forster and Henry James novels, with the occasional much modern anomaly similar Tama Janowitz’s “Slaves of New York.” Merchant died successful 2005; Jhabvala successful 2013. After decades conjuring the Anglo-American aristocracy clinking cups successful gardens and drafting rooms, Ivory, the survivor, is acceptable to spill the tea.

He spills it not successful the emblematic large autobiographical splash but successful dribs and drabs: letters, diary entries, tumbling sense-memories of fashion, nutrient and furnishings (and the different F-word), with scores of appealingly casual photographs sprinkled throughout. An established maestro of the dilatory reveal, Ivory serves gossip with a voile overlay. Contrasting with the homages to men that got away, “argyle sweater, erections and all,” are the chapters devoted to Difficult Women similar the bombshell histrion Raquel Welch, who had the temerity to defy a forceful lovemaking scene; the politically progressive and litigious Vanessa Redgrave; and the intelligence Jhabvala, whom Ivory saw arsenic a civilizing “preceptor” but ne'er forgave for dissing Merchant-Ivory’s adaptation of Forster’s homosexually themed caller “Maurice.” It besides seems to irk the writer that Jhabvala (a Jewish exile from Nazi Germany and parent of three) didn’t bash housework — “Ruth ne'er lifted a finger, but to her typewriter” — which, excuse me, but: goals.

I kept reasoning that “Solid Ivory,” which was edited by the novelist Peter Cameron, amounts to much of a scrapbook of finely wrought prose sketches than the afloat carved self-sculpture suggested by its title, whose touching root communicative I won’t spoil. Then, aft a small nighttime Googling, I discovered that the bulk of the worldly was originally published — bound successful antique silk, people — by Cameron’s backstage press, Shrinking Violet. About a 4th of the worldly besides antecedently appeared successful assorted publications, from Sight and Sound mag to a Christie’s catalog.

It’s each precise efficaciously spliced unneurotic here, but with occasional lapses successful continuity, arsenic they accidental successful the movie biz — similar a diary introduction astir The New Yorker writer Lillian Ross that fails to footnote her death, successful 2017, arsenic if she is inactive filing “Talk of the Town” pieces from eden (honestly, I wouldn’t beryllium surprised). Ivory’s relationship of hanging retired with Ross astatine her son’s christening is 1 of the much enjoyably chaotic successful the book, with cameos by a cranky J.D. Salinger, that annoying person who refuses to airs for pictures commemorating the occasion, and William Shawn, the famously subdued exertion and Ross’s longtime lover, who convulsed with sobs during the ceremony.

We are admitted into the elegant homes of Stephen Tennant, the tarnished Bright Young Thing who was an aboriginal proponent of working from bed (“like immoderate outlandish enactment of creation that you cannot enactment anywhere,” Ivory describes him, “but which has its ain unspeakable integrity”); of George Cukor, an aboriginal mentor from the Golden Age of Hollywood; and of the itinerant Ivory himself. “What the hellhole is Susan Sontag doing successful my bedroom?” helium forehead-smacks successful Paris 1 night, watching her leafage with presumed judgement done his night-stand speechmaking aft a meal party. And astatine his Claverack, N.Y., manor, a uniquely Merchant-Ivory retention problem: “Does anyone request a gondola?”

This publication does thin to skirt implicit oregon adjacent coldly aestheticize unpleasant truths, similar the “half-burned bits of bodies” floating past a movie unit successful the stream Ganges; oregon the information that Chatwin died of AIDS, not specified here; oregon adjacent a chauffeur’s connection of a handshake refused by the vestigial “nobles” with whom Ivory, blackballed by assemblage fraternities, recovered himself consorting aft his success. I can’t rather enactment retired his presumption connected snobbery, and I don’t deliberation helium has either. But I present look astatine the celebrated country successful “A Room With a View” that truthful embarrassed maine arsenic a young teen, bare men splashing full-frontally astatine a swimming hole, successful a caller and dappling light.

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