Ismail Merchant, the producer/business-minded half of Merchant Ivory Productions, passed away today at age 68. Along with his partner James Ivory, he built a powerful production company that became synonymous for classy costume dramas like "A Room With A View," "Howards End," and "The Remains of the Day."
For many, Merchant Ivory signifies a type of glossy, corseted period film, generally revolving around class tensions, seemingly perfectly evolved to win awards, and often drearily dull. Our father, whose commitment to the particular concept of "quality films" like Merchant Ivory’s (with their impeccable critical reception and impeachable casts of stalwart Brits) probably led to our rabid appetite for writing about film, would often pick up the latest gusseted title at the video store on the way home from work on a Friday. Some of our earliest film memories involve us, sprawled on the carpet in front of the television, attempting hopelessly to understand the travails of a Victorianed Helena Bonham Carter as she trounced through turn-of-the-century English society, as our mother, for whom all films act as strange and powerful narcoleptic agents, snored intermittently in the background.