The Ferdy 500: A Few of Our Favourite Things

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By Marilyn Ferdinand and Roderick Heath

You are about to read the 500th post on Ferdy on Films, etc. When this all started back in December 2005, I had no idea how long it would last or what directions it would take. I knew that I enjoyed writing film reviews: indeed, the first reviews on this blog were copied and pasted from a film discussion board I frequented, a place film congregants who bolted from the New York Times Film Forum in protest—including Rod and the hubby—met to discuss films, fight like a dysfunctional family, and express outlooks that became as doddering as the participants who voiced them forgetfully for the 15th time. I was no longer the film neophyte who came to them looking for information and guidance several years before. I had the moxie to think that I knew enough about movies to tell other people what I thought about them without fear of becoming a laughingstock. Looking back over the 500 mainly substantive posts that comprise Ferdy on Films, I can honestly say that there is little that seems hastily digested, little I would take back, and actually a few moments of grace—my review of The Quiet Man is my own personal favorite—that any writer or commentator is lucky to achieve.

If I had been the sole critic on this blog, my “offroad” approach to film reviewing (or as Rod calls it below, the “Oxfam approach to world cinema”) might have doomed the blog to the backwaters where I hunt for new kinds of films to view. It has been my great good fortune not only to have such a brilliant writer and analytical mind in Rod to bring some real scholarly heft to Ferdy, but also his enthusiasm for mainstream movies. Thanks, Rod, for going where no 50ish woman should ever have to and bringing back such enlightening tales from the front as The Dark Knight and a double-feature of Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer/Transformers. Rod’s double-features are always well-considered, from his comparison of the original King Kong with Peter Jackson’s imperfect, but ambitious remake to a pairing of two Gus Van Sant films, Paranoid Park and Milk, giving me an appreciation for changes in style over time as well as a more well-rounded look at directors who have and are continuing to make a mark on the cinematic landscape.

Rod’s ability to be comprehensive while still relatively compact astonishes me. His “Look Back: Influences and Major Figures of the British Free Cinema” is an article I still reference and recall when choosing British films from this period to watch. I also believe his tribute pieces are without peer. Was there a better overview of Roy Scheider’s career at his death than Rod’s? I’m convinced not. Rod’s lengthy series on the films of Martin Scorsese gave our current reigning king of American cinema an in-depth, career-long retrospective in a succinct, accessible way, though Rod’s refusal to gaze again on After Hours, Scorsese’s ’80s affectation, still has me chuckling.

Rod’s great enthusiasm is in horror. I don’t think there’s a style of horror out there, from the eerie classics like Val Lewton’s Isle of the Dead to the made-for-television cheese of Salem’s Lot and great European classics, such as Dario Argento’s Suspiria and Jesús Franco’s Vampyros Lesbos, that Rod hasn’t covered. There are a lot of film blogs devoted to horror; there are few film critics who can burrow into such an irrational passion with such clear-eyed focus. Rod is never blinded by the light.

I don’t have a particular favorite among Rod’s works, but there are two reviews that have lingered in my mind. His appreciation of Olivier Assayas’ Boarding Gate really opened my eyes to the potential in this rising French director and the full-to-bursting creativity of its star, Asia Argento. The other, Happy Feet, was a rare personal review from Rod that is as close to a self-portrait as he’s ever likely to do here. Thanks, Rod, for all you’ve done for the blog, its readers, and for me personally. A better partnership I could never ask for.

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A quick check proves that my first piece for Ferdy on Films was posted in January 2006, barely a month after Marilyn started her blog. My, how time flies. My first post is still one of my favourites, being as it is about one of my favourite films, Ridley Scott’s The Duellists. Being a film commentator, or anything, really, on the internet, has its challenges and traps. It is, in essence, the freedom to mouth off in any fashion you want, and it offers everyone else the same opportunity. Everything on the internet is both instantaneously old and yet can live on and on.

It’s perhaps a minor miracle that two people as opinionated, and of often such differing opinions, as Marilyn and I have managed to maintain a working partnership for so long, relatively free of blow-outs and blow-ups. Perhaps it’s the fact that we share a strong level of both enthusiasm and cynicism, distinctly catholic tastes (in the original sense of the word), and don’t mind a fight when it comes around. Gladly or not, we’ve both suffered a lot of fools over the years, but Marilyn’s industriousness gets things done, man! And, oh yeah, I really like reading Marilyn’s writing, when I agree with every word, and even when I disagree with her to the point when the vein on my forehead threatens to burst and my hyperactive salivary glands spew out white foam.

Marilyn has expressed amazement at my own desire to understand pop culture, where Marilyn’s fondness for little-known and diverse foreign films, which, in some of my grouchier moments I mumblingly refer to as her Oxfam approach to world cinema, is that of someone who likes to look beyond the ever-limiting prescriptions of distributors (I won’t use that now so vague and tired whipping post called “Hollywood”), studios, theaters, and mainstream critics, and look for the undiscovered and the little-appreciated, or the stuff worthy of reappreciation. The great boom in independent and international filmmaking, the huge resources of modern communication, a theoretical freedom of choice such as has never existed before, have ironically enabled the continual narrowing of alternatives by the utter cynicism of modern news and entertainment media, mercenary prerogative of corporatised culture, and a general cultural zeitgeist that’s often just fucking lazy. Such phenomena have both compressed and atomised opportunities for getting the news out on the original, the vigorous, and the interesting, not necessarily as opposed to, but surely in addition to, the colossal one-weekend monstrosities and the favoured few darlings of the fanboys.

Plus we just like yapping about movies, dammit!

One irony of this is that I often find myself having to avert my gaze from Marilyn’s commentaries on films that look interesting and will probably never turn up anywhere. I’d be lucky if I’ve seen half of the movies Marilyn has commented upon.

Still, I love that she turned me on to Jiri Menzel’s I Served the King of England, recognised the disguised Bette Davis movie that is Park Chen-wook’s Lady Vengeance, and so vigorously defends Paul Verhoeven’s Black Book. I’ve been much amused by the difference of her opinion of Tom Collins’ Kings with my father’s—it’s a Celtic thing, he insists. I loved that she gave John Hillcoat’s The Proposition the trashing it so richly deserved, approached Ken Russell’s The Devils with such passion, and that she spares some time for some now-underrated oldies like The Nun’s Story and The Life of Emile Zola. Marilyn’s political and feminist button-pushing is always entertaining, and it hits the mark effectively, judging by some of her comments. I meditated for days on her commentary of A Question of Silence and I Spit on Your Grave, worth a dozen whining posts about mixed messages in Katherine Heigl films that passes for a lot of cultural commentary on the internet. And of course, her frontline posts from the film festivals she attends are a cornucopia of interest. I don’t go to film festivals. I can’t afford to.

If Marilyn’s a little bit more the activist, and myself more the self-styled philosopher of our blogship enterprise, well, at the very least Ferdy on Films is, I hope, a site that exhibits strong principles and considered opinion, and fulfils our mutual desire to exist on a mean between accessibility and erudition. With the 500th post on Ferdy on Films, I can’t help but see us at something of a crossroads. Perhaps that’s because we are, indeed, at a crossroads. Real life makes us acknowledge it even in the most pristinely remote corners of cyberspace. Both spirit and flesh can get a bit weak. But there’ll always be more movies to write about.

  • Ryan Kelly spoke:
    24th/08/2009 to 11:28 am

    Love the blog, maybe my favorite discovery since I started blogging, and here’s hoping to at least 500 more. Great work you two, and your differing styles compliment and contrast each other wonderfully.

  • Marilyn spoke:
    24th/08/2009 to 11:32 am

    Thanks, Ryan! I, too, think Rod and I make a great team. Whether we’ll make it to 1,000 is hard to say – times are a little hard right now in our separate parts of the world – but here’s hoping for continued inspiration for as long as it lasts.

  • Ed Howard spoke:
    24th/08/2009 to 12:11 pm

    I heartily second Ryan: you two do great work here, and I always enjoy your unique and polished writings. This is a fantastic blog and I hope you do stick around for 500 more posts (and hey, why not 500 more after that?). Congrats on the anniversary!

  • Marilyn spoke:
    24th/08/2009 to 12:16 pm

    Thanks, Ed. I know you could probably polish off 500 posts in a fortnight, but we try. 🙂
    Seriously, to have the kinds of readers like you and Ryan and all the other great regulars with the kind of knowledge and enthusiasm you do makes it so worthwhile. You all make me better at this than I might have been otherwise.

  • Rod spoke:
    24th/08/2009 to 12:19 pm

    Imagine me giving a courtly bow and kissing your hand in gentlemanly fashion, Marilyn. And then stealing your champagne.
    But I must protest the gaps in the Scorsese series, which I still hope to fill, including After Hours, are only the result of my inability to view them at the time.

  • Marilyn spoke:
    24th/08/2009 to 12:31 pm

    Thank you, suh! And get me a refill while you’re at it.
    Now, now, I clearly remember you saying you could simply not face watching After Hours again.

  • Rod spoke:
    24th/08/2009 to 12:40 pm

    I thought it was The King of Comedy I said that about. But yeah, After Hours ain’t my darling.

  • Miranda Wilding spoke:
    24th/08/2009 to 1:07 pm

    Marilyn, you deserve an enormous amount of credit for such a fabulously worthy enterprise.
    You write with such passion, elegance and ferocity. You tackle long adored favourites of mine and introduce me to films that I’d either long forgotten about or had no idea of their precious existence.
    That’s one of the most important things about FOF. It’s an excellent resource for the more obsure esoteric stuff.
    “It has been my great good fortune not only to have such a brilliant writer and analytical mind in Rod to bring some real scholarly heft to Ferdy, but also his enthusiasm for mainstream movies.”
    *whistles* Here, here!!!
    Either of you could do a superlative job by yourselves. But the contrasts between your two vibrant personalities is what makes this site truly unique.
    I think you’re both terrific. Here’s to many, many more satisfying posts in the future…

  • Marilyn spoke:
    24th/08/2009 to 1:32 pm

    Thanks, Miranda. Your praise is, as usual, effusive and much appreciated.

  • Sam Juliano spoke:
    24th/08/2009 to 5:06 pm

    Congratulations on some of the finest work on the net. Best Wishes while you and your colleague embark on another 500.

  • Marilyn spoke:
    24th/08/2009 to 5:15 pm

    Thank you, Sam! Much appreciated!

  • Pat spoke:
    24th/08/2009 to 10:22 pm

    Marilyn and Rod –
    Congratulations on 500 wonderful posts! This was the first film blog on which I ever posted a comment (on Rod’s review of “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”‘ as I recall) and your gracious responses encouraged me to keep coming back. I always look forward to your thoughtful and incisive work, and will keep coming back for more.

  • Rod spoke:
    24th/08/2009 to 11:12 pm

    I must add to Marilyn’s thanks for your general good wishes.

  • Daniel spoke:
    25th/08/2009 to 11:06 am

    Cheers to both of you on this milestone. I believe I first showed up around here following Marilyn’s excellent dissection of Standard Operating Procedure, and I’ve had to sit up a little bit straighter ever since then. I appreciate the quality and depth of writing here that never takes the easy way out. You’re consistently making better writers and thinkers out of all of us.

  • Marilyn spoke:
    25th/08/2009 to 11:19 am

    Daniel, it has been a pleasure to have you commenting here, particularly on the documentaries. It’s great to have a real fan of the form to keep me on MY toes.

  • Greg F spoke:
    25th/08/2009 to 2:39 pm

    Geez, everyone is celebrating anniversaries. Congratulations on a magnificent blog. Despite Rod’s anger and hate-filled bile you have managed to create a delightful reading place here on the web. You two really are two of the best film critics I know of and your arguments challenge the viewer to see more in every film. The two of you make a great team and I look forward to the next 500 posts.

  • Rod spoke:
    25th/08/2009 to 10:27 pm

    Err…

  • Greg F spoke:
    25th/08/2009 to 10:55 pm

    You call that bile? Oh, you know I’m just joking with you although I do think it would be cool if you changed your pic on the sidebar to one of you screaming at the camera with blood red eyes. You know, to scare the newbies.

  • Rod spoke:
    25th/08/2009 to 11:25 pm

    Now Greg you’ve obviously paid no attention to what I’ve written over the years. You know I like to engender a slow-building dread building to apoplexies of terror.

  • Fox spoke:
    26th/08/2009 to 12:20 am

    Congrats Marilyn! And I hope that champagne gives you the buzz to keep going. I know you’ve mentioned “hanging it up” in some sense or another, but this 500th post is reason enough for you to surge on. I mean, who else is gonna write a review about The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics if not YOU!!!

  • Marilyn spoke:
    26th/08/2009 to 9:12 am

    Ed Howard. He’s the master of animation.
    But for now, we soldier on!

  • Mykal Banta spoke:
    27th/08/2009 to 5:09 am

    Marilyn: Congratulations on the milestone. Your love for films comes through vividly on every post, and your blog is a champ. — Mykal

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What others say about us

"You put a lot of love into your blog." – Roger Ebert, Roger Ebert's Journal
"Marilyn and Roderick … always raising the tone." – Farran Smith Nehme, The Self-Styled Siren
"Honestly, you both have made me aware of films I've never seen, from every era. Mega enriching." – Donna Hill, Strictly Vintage Hollywood




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