Savages begins with intertitled black-and-white sequences that look like the southern sequel to Nanook of the North, doing us the anthropological service of chronicling the “Mud People,” forest dwellers who spend their time hunting, gathering, and engaging in the odd lascivious poke. Their prelapsarian noblesse sauvage is through, however, when a croquet ball – " a perfect sphere unknown in the forest" – lands in their midst like some stray apple falling off the forbidden tree. The tribe follows the sphere to its source, a lavish deserted mansion, and the film takes on color as the savages take on culture and “civilization” in a twenty-four hour period.
In a rapid evolution from the Stone Age to the Jazz Age, the “savages” exchange their ritual masks for the evening clothes of the 1920s and 30s, and engage in one of the first trademark Merchant Ivory dinner parties, where the guests exchange pleasantries and venom, and make a new art of the non sequitur (“Do you know the derivation of the term bric-a-brac?”). The film is based on an idea of James Ivory’s, with a screenplay by George Swift Trow and Michael O’Donoghue, written from an outline they had published in the Paris Review: the dialogue both revels in the ridiculous (the primitive priestess-turned-society hostess Carlotta instructs her guests in the arts of divination using fruit) and then bites into social politics (“Tropical fruit is a bit course, I find,” she sniffs at her Indian maid). —Merchant Ivory Productions
Thanks to the content of his films, American director James Ivory has spent much of his long career being mistaken for an Englishman. Few filmmakers have been more closely associated with a particular type of genre than Ivory and his longtime collaborator, producer Ismail Merchant. The very mention of the hyphenate Merchant-Ivory effortlessly conjures up heavily stylized images of Edwardian England, replete with stiff upper lips, effete aristocrats, and young women confined by both corsets and repressed desire. However, although much of Ivory’s reputation has been built on his E.M. Forster-adapted period dramas, he has also earned considerable respect for the insightful examinations on the interplay of different cultures inherent in almost all of his work — particularly his earlier films about India — and his and Merchant’s ability to make quality films on a minimal budget.
Born in Berkeley, California, on June 7, 1928, Ivory grew up in Klamath Falls, Oregon, where his father… read more
This disjointed commentary on imperialism, society and anthropological progression is nothing short of LSD induced beat poetry in play. It's black & white, sepia, then brilliant color -all beautiful, strange and oh so weird. The juxtopositions are shallow despite their decorative distractions. This is the oddest movie I have ever seen: like a Robert Altman movie on crack.