Moviegoers' respect for independent filmmaking has grown in recent years, but there's nothing new about "indie" productions. Some independents have been creating artful work for decades, and the group that might be the most gifted of all is being greeted with a hearty celebration this season. Merchant Ivory Productions' years of experience are the subject of a widely touring series called "Views of Merchant Ivory: 3 Continents, 14 Films."
The program's title indicates the range of work accomplished by producer Ismail Merchant, director James Ivory, and their many talented collaborators since "The Householder" launched their partnership in 1963. One way of tracing their activity is by visualizing a map of the three continents they've charted: Asia, home of India-based tales like "Shakespeare Wallah" and "Heat and Dust"; Europe, the scene for dramas like "Howards End" and "The Remains of the Day"; and North America, home of offbeat stories like "Roseland" and "Slaves of New York."
Although they're justly praised for the dignity and elegance of their work, Merchant and Ivory have never hesitated to be adventurous when the spirit moved them - in the unique "Maurice," for instance, with its forthright treatment of homosexuality, or the controversial "Jefferson in Paris," with its much-debated historical ideas.
But throughout its collective career, the Merchant Ivory team has focused its greatest energy on entertaining a worldwide audience with movies that are almost always thoughtful, engaging, and fun. Their achievements go far beyond the 14 films on this program, but most of their greatest hits are included, and moviegoers may not be able to reexperience them on the wide screen for a long while.
Coming next year: "A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries," the newest Merchant Ivory project.
* Following its New York run, the 'Views of Merchant Ivory' program is slated for one- to two-week engagements in San Francisco, March 6; Los Angeles, March 12; Corona del Mar, Calif., March 20; Boise, Idaho, April 3; Brookline, Mass., April 10; Huntington, N.Y., April 24; Chicago, April 24; Miami, June 5; Waterville, Maine, June 12; and Yellow Springs, Ohio, June 26.