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Savages - The Merchant Ivory Collection

3.1 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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(Jun 22, 2004)
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Editorial Reviews

A masked, naked, clay-covered band of jungle primitives are disturbed in the middle of a human sacrifice by the sudden intrusion of a croquet ball. Led by their high priestess, they trek through the forest in search of its origins and arrive at an immense, deserted manor house. They occupy the mansion, which begins to have a civilizing effect on the savages; individual personalities emerge, and with them, pasts, futures, family connections, ambitions, and other trappings of society. Over the course of a weekend get-together, the savages soon become grand socialites, in fine clothes, who give elaborate dinner parties, where the talk is of world politics, art, and the fascinations of anthropology. But then their civilization begins to fall apart; the savages' manners and morals deteriorate and they even lose the habit of speech. By Monday dawn they have shed their clothes and we last see them retreating into the forest and their Stone Age lives.

The first American film from Merchant Ivory Productions is also their most uncommon and most unexpected, especially for audiences only familiar with their Indian films or their period films set in Europe or America. A fascinating meditation on the rise and fall of civilizations, with a witty screenplay by George Swift Trow and Michael O'Donoghue, Savages is filmed in an improvisatory, experimental style and merges a series of tragic—comic tableaux with pseudo-scholarly documentary narration and title cards. The result is a dark, biting satire that will turn viewer expectations upside-down.

Special Features

  • New high-definition transfer
  • The Adventures of a Brown Man in Search of Civilization, an hour-long documentary film by director James Ivory about Indian scholar Nirad Chaudhuri
  • Conversation with the filmmakers, part of a new series of interviews with Ismail Merchant and James Ivory

Product Details

  • Actors: Lewis J. Stadlen, Anne Francine, Thayer David, Susan Blakely, Russ Thacker
  • Directors: James Ivory
  • Writers: James Ivory, George W.S. Trow, Michael O'Donoghue
  • Producers: Anthony Korner, Ismail Merchant, Joseph Saleh
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Anamorphic, Black & White, Color, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
  • Studio: Merchant Ivory
  • DVD Release Date: June 22, 2004
  • Run Time: 106 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00020X84I
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #155,881 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Savages - The Merchant Ivory Collection" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: DVD Verified Purchase
Merchant and Ivory go on a psychedelic bender in this mad indictment of capitalist culture and hubris. The accidental discovery by the mud people of a perfect sphere induces them to abort their planned human sacrifice and follow the bouncing ball. This leads them to an abandoned Long Island mansion, where, literally overnight, they blunder their way into the formation of a perfect 1930's dinner-party society. There are an industrialist, a poet, male and female cross-dressers, a fallen woman, a slave girl, and the hard-boiled hostess with the mostest, Carlotta. All have their roles to play in the rise and fall of "progress". As various power struggles play out, unresolved tensions force a dissolution of the social structure and the characters devolve into the "savages" that they were at the beginning of the film.

Still one of the most amusing parables available regarding the excesses of Western -- and specifically American -- culture, "Savages" is as loony as a mushroom trip and as symbol-laden as a classic fairy tale.

I'd have given it five stars, except that there a couple of scenes toward the end that just don't seem as tight as the rest of the film -- but maybe that's just me.
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From the moment Bobby Short begins exuberantly singing the mock-flamboyant title song over the Art Deco titles, it's clear that this won't be your usual Merchant-Ivory film. Clearly owing a great deal to the Surrealists, the Theater of the Absurd, and the gleefully experimental ethos of the 1960s, we're treated to the story of a Stone Age tribe following the course of a croquet ball into the glittering, opulent heart of Western civilization. Beginning in pristine, timeless black & white, with title cards to advance the story, the film shifts to a warm golden sepia tone once the tribe enters the abandoned Gatsby-esque mansion & begins exploring it. Once they dress themselves in elegant 1930s finery, the film shifts into full color, as the tribe puts on the facade of triumphant American capitalism & culture. In a 24-hour period, we watch the rise, the flowering, the decay, and finally the collapse of that civilization.

As previous reviews show, this is one of those films with very little middle ground. Viewers will either embrace it or utterly loathe it. Personally, I find it exhilarating, a perfect example of the creative freedom open to young filmmakers & actors in that brief, energetic period of recent history. Others will simply find it bizarre & pretentious. Fair enough. But for me, it's a pleasure to watch the semi-improvised story unfold, with its tantalizing fragments of news, poetry, and nonsense. Interestingly, much of the dialogue constantly alludes to the imminent collapse of Something Important: borders, negotiations, the dollar, etc. An urgent radio broadcast interrupts the evening's entertainments with news of a shipping disaster. Even at its heights, civilization knows in its bones that its power is brittle & fleeting; chaos is always there, waiting to reclaim its own.
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By Petros on February 12, 2016
Format: DVD
James Ivory is an American and Ismail Merchant is Indian and 1972 marks Merchant/Ivory’s first feature film outside India and into western culture. Savages, is based on an idea by James Ivory which became this wonderful film. It features stunning tribal music with great images in the first act.

There are savages covered in mud who wear masks and elaborate head gear who fornicate at a moment’s notice. Suddenly a ball representing a perfect sphere draws them to an abandoned mansion where savage turns to self-consciousness, then self-consciousness becomes the mess, the contradictions, the decadence, the decay and sometimes the boredom of civilized life. This is one of Merchant/Ivory’s most compelling and innovative films to date, with a narrative so unique it compares to none!
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Format: DVD
Savages is an art film with an outlandish but very clever premise and plot: what would happen if a tribe of primitive men & women stumbled into an abandoned English manor and were gradually transformed by their surroundings into the twentieth-century's social elite.

In the opening segment we are given a glimpse of the mud people who order their world according to rites and rituals (many of them related to fertility). Interestingly enough, the mud people are ruled by a high priestess and interestingly enough the mud people capture and enslave a dark-skinned & raven-haired female from another tribe. Already, at the dawn of civilization (at least in its English incarnation), a matriarchy is established and colonialism is a fact of life.

Later, after the mud people undergo their transformations in the manor the high priestess of the mud people will become a socialite & spiritualist who provides the refined English with a whole new set of rites and rituals, and the dark-skinned and raven-haired slave will still be their servant.

Other "types" are recognizable: the sensitive & thoughtful mud man becomes a scholar and poet in the manor, the aggressive alpha male mud man becomes a high-born social bully, etc...

After the transformation from mud people into English and American and German (and other) social types the film then becomes a parable (and parody) of the rise and fall of civilizations. Immediately after the mud people don English attire they are like children learning all they can about "civilization". Its immediately apparent that the sensitive types are interested in knowledge for its own sake while the bullying types are more interested in power and in learning new ways to dominate and exploit the others.
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