News to Me: James Ivory, Alexander Payne, Werner Herzog
James Ivory and Alexander Payne
After winning the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for Call Me by Your Name, James Ivory is moving full speed ahead on an adaptation of “The Judge’s Will,” the final short story by his lifetime creative collaborator and friend Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. Their partnership extended back to the early ’60s, when Ivory and Ismail Merchant asked her to adapt her novel The Householder into a feature film, and she became a screenwriting third of the central Merchant-Ivory Productions triad, author of 23 scripts including Howards End, A Room with a View, and The Remains of the Day.
Published in The New Yorker a week before Jhabvala’s death in April 2013, “The Judge’s Will” centers on the wife of a judge in Delhi, who stipulates in his will that his family provide for his mistress of 25 years.
“The gradual relaxation of family animosity towards the mistress, and a growing acceptance of her, is a very Jhabvalian development,” Ivory told Film Comment at the tail end of a Jhabvala retrospective at the Quad Cinema in New York. Rights to the story were acquired in the fall of 2013 by Fox Searchlight and Alexander Payne, who is attached to direct.
When Payne met with Ivory in late 2017 about adapting the screenplay, he shared his visions for transposing the story stateside to Chicago.
“The story is one that could well take place in other countries; it’s not inherently Indian, nor are its characters,” Ivory observed. “Ruth would, I know, have applauded this move to the American Midwest. That’s the way she was. So I feel I’m on solid ground on the terrain Payne has chosen, and I’m looking forward to working in Chicago. I have always liked that city.”
“Ruth was always very adventurous in writing for us,” he continued. “She struck out on all sorts of paths; took the stories into all sorts of new places—her original scripts for The Guru, Autobiography of a Princess, and Jefferson in Paris are all very good examples of that, as is Mr. and Mrs. Bridge, based on two novels by Evan S. Connell which she wove together. In that way—in her sense of adventure—I hope I’ll be as daring as she was, and find all kinds of opportunities to expand her themes.”
Ivory will focus on drafting the screenplay by the end of the year, but he has other ideas percolating as well.
“I’d also been thinking about doing an adaptation of the novel Coral Glynn by Peter Cameron, which I’d like to direct, set in England in the 1950s,” he shared. “There is a sharp detective in the story which would suit Daniel Day-Lewis, just as there are very good parts for Helena Bonham Carter, Julian Sands, and Rupert Graves, now all in their fifties.”
Anticipating the expected rejoinder about a potential Day-Lewis role, Ivory remarked, “Daniel has retired from film acting before, but came out to play Abraham Lincoln. Maybe he will also want to play our detective and will be ready to be coaxed out to join his old friends.”
Films on the Horizon
Werner Herzog will direct a television series based on Greg Grandin’s Fordlandia, an account of Henry Ford’s quest to transport American suburbia to the Amazon rainforest in the 1920s. He will also contribute a documentary on Mikhail Gorbachev to the History Channel’s anthology film series “History 100,” with Barbara Kopple signed on to direct another one-off feature on the Operation Eagle Claw rescue mission during the 1980 Iran hostage crisis . . . Jane Campion is working on the screenplay for an untitled feature that will be her first to focus on a male protagonist—as she told The Guardian, “Because at last, I feel I can” . . . Steven Spielberg is readying a Ulysses S. Grant biopic, to be scripted by David James Kelly based on Ron Chernow’s tome. Fair warning that the cast will likely be led by Leonardo DiCaprio.
✸ Go to summer school with this two-hour masterclass conducted by Lucrecia Martel, recorded at Rotterdam.
✸ Twenty-two issues of Kino-Pravda, Dziga Vertov’s newsreel series produced between 1922 and 1925, are available on the Austrian Film Museum’s website.
✸ Gina Telaroli sat down for an hour-long conversation with Alan Rudolph and Keith Carradine for MUBI.