James Ivory’s special showing of the Academy Award winning “Call Me By Your Name” drew about 200 viewers, including some from the Rogue Valley, during a one-time screening at the Pelican Cinemas Saturday night.
“I was excited to be there, to be in that theater in Klamath Falls, and seeing everybody enjoy the film,” Ivory said of the screening arranged by Klamath Film. “I don’t know how many directors go back to their hometowns and get a full house.”
The nearly packed crowd watched the film that earned Ivory his first Academy Award earlier this year for best screenplay. Throughout his long filmmaking career Ivory is best known as a director, including three Academy Award nominations. Ivory grew up in the Klamath Falls, graduating from Klamath Union High School. In 1984, Ivory’s Academy Award nominated film, “A Room With A View,” was shown at the Pelican Cinemas at his class’s 40th reunion.
During the question-answer session, which followed the screening and lasted nearly an hour, Ivory fielded a wide range of queries, from writing the screenplay for the film to challenges he’s faced to his personal history in Klamath Falls.
“I think just generally seeing lots of movies,” Ivory said of going to movies in an era when Klamath Falls had several movie theaters. “I went to movies constantly.”
He also credited teachers at Sacred Heart Academy, which no longer exists, with allowing him to develop an early interest in drawing and painting. He remembers one nun, who he described as an “accomplished painter,” who “taught me to paint in the traditional way.” Ivory also had praise for Roberta Bloomquist, a teacher at Klamath Union High School, who was “completely involved in theater.”
His family played a key role, too. While studying for his master’s degree at USC, Ivory was given approval to make a film instead of writing a thesis. When it was well received, Ivory began work on his first documentary, “Four in the Morning,” in 1953, which was funded by his father, Edward, who owned the Ivory Pine mills in Bly and Klamath Falls. Because it was successful, Ivory made a second documentary, “Venice: Theme and Variations,” in 1957, which he said also funded by his father. Both made the New York Times list of best non-theatrical films.
While screening his third documentary, “The Sword and the Flute,” in 1959, Ivory said he met Ismail Merchant, who wanted to make feature films from India to be shown internationally. That led to their first feature film, “The Householder” in 1963.
“I think we assumed we would make it,” Ivory said of teaming with Merchant in forming Merchant Ivory Productions, a professional and romantic partnership that resulted in 40 films until Merchant’s death in 2005. “After ‘Shakespeare Wallah’ we knew we were on to something,” he said of the 1965 film.
Success, he told the audience was never guaranteed. During the filming of “A Room With A View,” which catapulted them to commercial success, Ivory was told they didn’t have enough money to complete the film. Merchant, who served as the team’s producer, did obtain the funds. Ivory received the first of three Academy Award nominations for best director while the film was nominated for seven other awards, including best picture, and won three.
Reflecting on “Call Me,” Ivory said there were plans for him to co-direct with Luca Guadagnino, but only on the stipulation that he write the screenplay. It was later decided that Guadagnino would be the sole director, “which was fine with me,” using Ivory’s screenplay. Ivory sent the screenplay to Andre Aciman, the book’s author. “There were one or two things” Aciman questioned.
Ivory said changes in his screenplay were made during the filming. “I wasn’t present at the shooting,” he said, explaining, “It’s very rare for writers to be on the set.” A major revision was the film’s final scene. Ivory originally planned the main actor, Timothee Chalamet, to be decorating a Christmas tree in the closing shots. But because his family and the person Chalamet’s fell in love with were Jewish, the timing was changed to Hanukkah with the actor gazing into a fireplace.
Among other topics:
- Ivory said his long-time desire to direct “Richard II,” a relatively little known Shakespeare play, stems in part because of his fascination with Richard because “all your feelings change about him” during the play. He also lamented that “nobody wants to do Shakespeare.”
- Asked about his process for writing and adapting, Ivory explained, “You have to think about itand make notes. You sit down with the book and start at page one ... You take from the book what you need.” Ivory said he takes notes in longhand, then types those up. For “Call Me,” he put together more than 100 pages of notes over the three-plus months of developing the screenplay.
- “There are no films I dislike,” Ivory said when asked to name the favorite film he’s helped produce, noting his opinions change and evolve. He listed “Mr. and Mrs. Bridge” and “A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries” as personal favorites because both are autobiographical.
- Asked about his thoughts after viewing “Call Me,” Saturday night, Ivory’s reaction was praise for cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, noting, “What I felt tonight was, Gosh, how well photographed it is. Those are wonderful shots.”