Cinematic Scheherazades: A Celebration


By Roderick Heath and Marilyn Ferdinand

Fourscore and seven years ago, give or take a few, Marilyn Ferdinand sent unto me an email to say she was starting a blog, and asked if I’d like to contribute something for it. And lo, it came to pass that the blog was called Ferdy on Films, and I gave unto her my first review, of Ridley Scott’s The Duellists. And verily, the gods of the internet sayeth that the blog was good.

One thousand posts and a half-million or so words later, I’m beginning to suspect this is some sort of trend. My head’s still spinning: I can’t even believe it’s been four years since we celebrated our five-hundredth post. In Arabian Nights, Scheherazade regaled the Sultan with stories to keep his axe at bay for a thousand nights. All ends happily of course, even after, on the one-thousandth night plus one, she admits to having no more stories to tell. Well, our happy ending is that, even after a thousand posts, we still have many movies to talk about. But we’re pausing to contemplate what a great labour it’s been.

Our heads were never at risk lest we failed to deliver our new posts, but the experience has certainly impacted our lives in a fashion I certainly didn’t imagine when we began, not least of which is the marvellous friends and supporters we’ve gathered over the years. The animating spirit of Ferdy on Films lay from the beginning in the fact that for both of us, Marilyn and I, cinema was something to be celebrated, not fawned over, but met with energy and interest, respect and attention, and generosity—that the little film and the big one could be spoken of equitably, that the casual movie fan was as open to a good idea as any cinephile. Ferdy on Films was our labour of love, a product and source of self-confidence. At first we had no idea who our audience would be. Now our audience animates and renews our passion. Our blog has been our own little hymn to freedom. Freedom of thought. Freedom from all cares but sheer love of a medium. Freedom to add to the larger cultural conversation without necessarily having to give a damn about it. The sheer freedom to say what you want, mediated, like all true freedom, by a sense of responsibility and of a driving ethic to say it in the best way you know how.

I owe great thanks to Marilyn, whose talent and vision and push into the unknown zones of deepest cyberspace dragged me along.

So, five of my favourites from amongst my own posts. These were hard to whittle down, believe me, and I could make three or four such lists. I’ve bypassed a couple of essays I’m proud of on films any self-respecting film fan probably has. These are not my most popular posts ever, and I don’t know if they’re the ones that have had the deepest impact, but they are essays where I’ve felt closest to that impossible ideal I always have in my head, that a film commentary can at once lay bare how movies work and yet retain the heady pleasure of actually watching them.

Amistad (1997)
Reviewed December 24, 2010


It was a pleasure writing this piece for Adam Zanzie’s Steven Spielberg Blogathon in 2010, as it gave me a chance to coherently and deeply discuss one of that director’s less appreciated works. It’s been particularly gratifying that in the time of 12 Years a Slave, Amistad has been gaining some new interest from some critics.

The Blood on Satan’s Claw (aka Satan’s Skin, 1970)
Reviewed October 25, 2011

Blood On Satan's Claw

Horror cinema has been something of my special beat on the blog since it started, and this piece from 2011 is one I have great affection for, as it allowed to do two things I particularly enjoy: to talk up a relatively unsung film, and to follow trains of thought stirred by the film in every direction. The great thing about horror films is that they’re under no pressure to be relevant to anything except their own perverse psyches, but that means they can be relevant to anything.

Story of a Prostitute (Shunpu den, 1965)
Reviewed November 24, 2012


The weird and wonderful Japanese auteur Seijun Suzuki has become one of my favourite filmmakers, and this epic stirred me to ecstasies I tried to capture in this essay from last year. It’s a piece that allowed me to honour both Marilyn’s early “off-road” ethos and celebrate a truly great film.

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)
Reviewed March 30, 2012


There’s been no shortage of encomiums to F.W. Murnau’s silent classic, and I don’t know if I added anything new to the repertoire, but still it’s a testimony to great cinema that, no matter how familiar, it can stir us like a bolt from the blue.

The Tree of Life (2011)
Reviewed September 6, 2011


Roger honcho Matt Zoller Seitz said this piece was one of the best pieces of film criticism he’d read by anybody on anything. And he totally can’t take that back.


When I first started Ferdy, the blogosphere was still on the newish side and a place of experimentation. I wrote a lot more “Our Backstreets” columns than I do now—personal stories and commentary set apart from movies that covered some material readers enjoyed, including an obituary for Studs Terkel and memories of local children’s television in Chicago. I also participated in a lot more memes and blogathons, which were the ways cinephiles got together on the internet before Facebook plundered the film blogging community. I even helped found a film club, The Oldest Established Really Important Film Club (TOERIFC), which rotated to the various blogs of its members each month. A couple of my favorite reviews were written for TOERIFC, The Rapture (1991) and The True Meaning of Pictures: Shelby Lee Adams’ Appalachia (2009), and they were favorites because they were designed specifically to engender discussion.

Rod and I both tried some regular features. His were “Famous Firsts,” to which I contributed a few entries, and his wonderful “Days of High Adventure” series on adventure films. I started one, “Nobel on Film,” in which I reviewed films made from the works of winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature and tried to make some literary and visual comparisons. I never got very far with that series, but my review of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1970) provided me with the extraordinary pleasure of getting a comment from the son of the film’s director, Caspar Wrede, who joined me in bemoaning the lack of a decent print of that terrific film. David Wrede would not be the only family member who would pitch up at Ferdy on Films. In what has to be the most unique comment thread on this site or many others is the family feud raging to this day in the comments section of Crazy, the 2007 biopic of guitarist Hank Garland I saw at the Big Island Film Festival on the Big Island of Hawaii.

It has been a trippy ride that has given a lot of meaning to my life in so many ways. I’ve had opportunities to do things I never dreamed I would do when this all began, and met some truly good people along the way. My friendship with Sam Juliano at Wonders in the Dark actually led me to write my best review, for his site! My blessings are many, including having one of the best writers and a guy with an enormously good heart as my blog partner all these years. Thanks, Rod. I love you, man!

And now, here is my humble offering of a handful of posts that still make me smile.

Niagara (1955)
Reviewed August 25, 2013


A Technicolor noir I saw at the 2013 Noir City Chicago, Niagara impressed me as a Hitchcockian film that reached incredible depths in using its famous, almost clichéd location as an integral part of its tale of lust and violence. The film marked the first where I saw Marilyn Monroe on the big screen, and the impact was breathtaking, to say the least. Nonetheless, director Henry Hathaway kept all the elements of his film in tight, well-coordinated control, making it a feast for a critic to examine.

The Quiet Man (1952)
Reviewed November 13, 2008


Irish-American director John Ford nourished his hope to make The Quiet Man over several decades, encouraged by members of his informal stock company, which included John Wayne, Ward Bond, Maureen O’Hara, and his own brother, Francis. When Ford finally got Republic Pictures to bankroll the film, he dashed to Cong, Ireland and created a film that almost directly channels the Irish mythic tradition. This review gave me a chance to delve into Irish folklore, a particular interest of mine, and show layer by layer how Ford created a time out of time. This review is as close to scholarly as I’ve gotten without being pedantic.

A Fool There Was (1915)
Reviewed February 14, 2010


Satisfying on every level as the first review for the first fundraising blogathon ever held at Ferdy on Films. Quintessential vamp Theda Bara’s body of work is almost completely lost and forgotten, but thankfully, this film, the one that made her an instant star, remains. Being able to see, understand, and convey what a sensation she was to women emerging from the stifling Victorian age, particularly within the context of a current resurgence of vampire lore, was eye-opening for me and readers alike. It was an additional thrill to expose the woman behind the eyes that are the symbol for the Chicago International Film Festival, a yearly ritual that I have been covering since 2006.

Certified Copy (2010)
Reviewed October 4, 2010


I’m a big fan of Iranian film, a national cinema that manages to be political, personal, inventive, and provocative while suffering persecution under the country’s Islamist rulers. Abbas Kiarostami is the greatest of all Iranian filmmakers, one whose obsessions with appearance and reality underscore the censored lives of his country’s citizens. With Certified Copy, he took this theme out of Iran for the first time, filming in Italy with two Western actors in the lead roles. Through careful observation and a thorough grounding in his core concerns, I felt a new blossoming of his filmmaking technique, and my enthusiasm made this one of my most satisfying reviews.

An Interview with Errol Morris
Posted April 17, 2008


I don’t do many interviews because of my shyness, so why I decided that I had to talk to the combative documentarian Errol Morris is beyond me. Nonetheless, a less-than-satisfying experience with his then-new film Standard Operating Procedure (2008) had me full of questions, and when I challenged him on what seemed to be a failure to communicate, he had a few choice expletives to throw my way. Nonetheless, I remained calm and ended up with a very thought-provoking Q&A that ran overtime (to the consternation of the next set of journalists waiting to talk with him on that press day) as we contemplated the bizarre state of our country in 2008.

DVD Giveaway

Starting at 9:00 a.m. CT, Ferdy on Films will give away one DVD each hour. We will post the DVD being offered at the top of the hour in this section. If you want to be part of the random drawing for that hour, simply post a comment with the name of the film in it before the next title is announced (yes, even if you posted at 9 a.m. or whatever hour, you will have to post again for subsequent giveaways). The names will be thrown into a hat, and one drawn. Rinse. Repeat. Pay attention to the DVD format to be sure you can play it before you enter to win. One DVD per person. Winners will be contacted at the email they use to post their comment to provide their address.



20th Century Fox | 1953 | 89 min
50GB Blu-ray Disc, Single disc (1 BD)
Playback: Region free
Resolution: 1080p
Aspect ratio: 1.37:1
Original aspect ratio: 1.37:1
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, German, Italian, Catalan, Croatian, Czech, etc.

The winner of the Niagara Blu-ray is SAM JULIANO! Congratulations!



20th Century Fox | 2:18:54.325 | 2011
Playback: Region free
Release date: October 11th, 2011
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps
Subtitles: English (SDH), Spanish
Extras: Exploring The Tree of Life (29:56 in 1080P); theatrical trailer (2:08 in 1080P); separate DVD disc and digital copy disc included

The winner of the The Tree of Life disc set is J.D.! Congratulations!


A New Leaf

Not in my top five reviews (in fact, I’d rewrite it today), but one of my top five favorite comedies. Written, directed, and starring Elaine May and costarring Walter Matthau and James Coco.

Olive Films | 102 Minutes | 1971
Playback : Standard DVD, region free
Release date: September 4, 2012
Aspect ratio: Widescreen

The winner of the A New Leaf DVD is ROBERT! Congratulations!



Dreamworks Video | 155 Minutes | 1997
Playback : Standard DVD, region free
Release date: May 4, 1999
Aspect ratio: Widescreen
Extras: Production notes; cast and filmmaker bios; theatrical trailer; behind the scenes featurette

The winner of the AMISTAD DVD is PHIL HALL! Congratulations!


Quiet Man

Olive Films | 129 Minutes | 1952
Playback: Blu-ray, region free
Release date: January 22, 2013
Aspect ratio: 1.33:1
Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps
Extras: The Making of The Quiet Man (27:48); 36 page liner notes booklet

The winner of the THE QUIET MAN DVD is ROB CHRISTOPHER! Congratulations!



Sony | 93 Minutes | 1970
Playback: DVD, region free
Release date: March 22, 2010
Aspect ratio: Widescreen

The winner of the BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW DVD is PATRICK FRIEL! Congratulations!


Lost & Found: American Treasures from The New Zealand Film Archive

These are treasures our blogathon helped bring to thousands. Includes John Ford’s Upstream and our third blogathon project The White Shadow.

Image Entertainment | 198 Minutes | 1910s-20s
Playback: DVD, region free
Release date: September 24, 2013

The winner of the Lost & Found: American Treasures from The New Zealand Film Archive DVD is MIKE SMITH! Congratulations!



Criterion Collection | 96 Minutes | 1965
Playback: DVD, region free
Aspect Ratio: Original aspect ratio 2.45:1
Release date: July 26, 2005
Subtitles: English, none
Extras: Exclusive new video interviews with director Seijun Suzuki, production designer Takeo Kimura, and film critic Tadao Sato; new essay by film critic David Chute; original theatrical trailer

The winner of the STORY OF A PROSTITUTE DVD is PAUL MOLLICA! Congratulations!



Criterion Collection | 106 Minutes | 2010
Playback: DVD, region free
Aspect Ratio: Widescreen
Release date: May 22, 2012
Subtitles: English, none
Extras: Director Abbas Kiarostami’s 1977 film The Report; new interview with Kiarostami; Let’s See Copia Conforme, An Italian Documentary on the Making of Certified Copy (:53), featuring interviews with Kiarostami and actors Juliette Binoche and William Shimell; trailer; booklet featuring an essay by film critic Godfrey Cheshire

The winner of the CERTIFIED COPY DVD is JILL BLAKE! Congratulations!



20th Century Fox | 94 Minutes | 1927
Playback: DVD and Blu-ray, region free
Aspect Ratio: Full screen
Release date: January 14, 2014
Extras: Original Fox Movietone version and European silent version; commentary by ASC cinematographer John Bailey; outtakes with commentary by John Bailey; original theatrical trailer; original scenario by Carl Mayer with annotations by F.W. Murnau; original Sunrise screenplay; restoration notes

The winner of the SUNRISE DVD is CLIFF WEIMER! Congratulations!

  • Matthew Tapey spoke:
    19th/12/2013 to 3:30 pm

    Lost & Found: American Treasures from the New Zealand Film Archive

  • Charles Cadkin spoke:
    19th/12/2013 to 3:47 pm

    Lost & Found: American Treasures from The New Zealand Film Archive

  • Jill Blake spoke:
    19th/12/2013 to 3:49 pm

    Lost & Found: American Treasures from the New Zealand Film Archive

  • Paul Mollica spoke:
    19th/12/2013 to 4:05 pm


  • Vanwall spoke:
    19th/12/2013 to 4:27 pm

    Story of a Prostitute

  • Charles Cadkin spoke:
    19th/12/2013 to 4:42 pm

    Story of a Prostitute

  • Stacy spoke:
    19th/12/2013 to 5:13 pm

    Certified Copy

  • Jill Blake spoke:
    19th/12/2013 to 5:28 pm

    Certified Copy

  • Charles Cadkin spoke:
    19th/12/2013 to 5:33 pm


  • Ivan spoke:
    19th/12/2013 to 6:47 pm


  • Vanwall spoke:
    19th/12/2013 to 6:48 pm

    Sunrise, A Story of Two Humans

  • SeanAx spoke:
    19th/12/2013 to 6:51 pm

    Sunrise! One of my all-time favorite movies!

  • Vanwall spoke:
    19th/12/2013 to 6:52 pm

    Correction to my spell-checking #@f%$# phone: Sunrise, A Song of Two Humans

  • Donna Hill spoke:
    19th/12/2013 to 6:52 pm


  • Greg Ferrara spoke:
    19th/12/2013 to 6:55 pm


  • Charles Cadkin spoke:
    19th/12/2013 to 7:06 pm


  • Cliff Weimer spoke:
    19th/12/2013 to 7:10 pm

    Sunrise! Uh, that’s it? That’s all I have to do? Well, Sunrise: A Tale of Two Humans, maybe? Or a film review? “It’s VERY good!” Oh, heck, now I sound like Peter Lorre at the wine tasting competition in Tales of Terror, huh? Merry Christmas!!!

  • Greg Ferrara spoke:
    19th/12/2013 to 8:54 pm

    I’m going to return every day and type in SUNRISE until someone sends me a copy.

  • Greg Ferrara spoke:
    19th/12/2013 to 8:58 pm

    If I go to WONDERS IN THE DARK and type in NIAGARA, do you think Sam will give me his copy?

  • Roderick spoke:
    19th/12/2013 to 8:59 pm

    Sunriiiiisse, sunseeeeet, sunriiiiisse, sunseeeeeet — swiftly flooooooow the daaaaaays!

  • Marilyn spoke:
    19th/12/2013 to 9:15 pm

    Oy! I’ve got a swag monger on one hand and Tevye Jr. on the other. Could be an interesting movie plot, come to think of it.

  • Cliff Weimer spoke:
    20th/12/2013 to 8:13 am

    I won! I won! *faints*

  • Roderick spoke:
    20th/12/2013 to 10:06 am

    I’d just like say thanks for the enthusiasm and all words of praise and good cheer yesterday, and I hope everybody’s happy with their prizes.

  • Marilyn spoke:
    20th/12/2013 to 11:20 am

    I think Cliff is.

    I reiterate Rod’s warm thanks for you words of appreciation and your generosity in sticking with us all these years.

  • Hilary Barta spoke:
    20th/12/2013 to 2:04 pm

    Congratulations, Rod and Marilyn! I wish i wasn’t under a deadline yesterday and could have tried for something.

  • Jill spoke:
    20th/12/2013 to 11:12 pm

    Oh wow! Thanks so much.

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"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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