Blocking the block

Well, it happened again. Once more I found myself fresh out of topics to write about, as the most feared and dreaded ailment to all writers returned: writer's block. So how can one overcome the block? You write about it!! (Which is actually what at least a few of the filmmakers on this list did with fascinating results.) Surprisingly I found this topic to be one of the most enjoyable to research in some time. Weirdly the topic of writers block has its own little niche genre that churns out some pretty creative offerings. Inspiration doesn't always come easily or naturally, but sometimes the unexpected inspiration that occurs because of that frustration is far more fascinating. Below are ten movies about creative block and the characters who suffered it.

ADAPTATION - So....if you've never seen this movie, you should know up front that it's straight up bizarre. But it's also pretty much brilliant. In real life, the movie was supposed to be an adaptation of a book called The Orchid Thief, but what it turned out to be instead was the story of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman who was hired to adapt it into a movie, and his struggles adapting an unadaptable book. It's the hipster meta. Meta before it was cool. Honestly, this movie kinda blows my mind. It's incredibly layered and clever. But it's certainly not for everyone. An acquired taste if ever there was one, and a great amount of patience and understanding is required for pay off. If you're willing to put that into it, you might just be able to love it. The dialogue alone had me. Also, it's noteworthy to mention that this is one of the incredibly few ACTUALLY good Nicolas Cage performances of all time (and he even plays two characters!) So that's kinda a big deal.

BARTON FINK - This, like Adaptation, is another real life result of writers' block. But this time it's from a different pair of intellectually unique minds: the Coen brothers. I had amazingly never even heard of this before researching possibilities to include on this list, and I can't understand how! To be honest I thought this was far superior to the somewhat overrated Fargo, and definitely feel it should be celebrated more among the Coens' filmography. Barton Fink is the story of an intellectually proud playwright who is lured to Hollywood to become a screenwriter. When he's commissioned to write a wrestling picture, something he deems below his artistic integrity writers block hits him hard. And a jovial neighboring John Goodman only seems to distract him even more every time he comes to visit. This movie perhaps more than any other showed how hard it is to muster creativity when it just won't come and honestly the results were fascinating. The less said about this film if you haven't seen it, the better so I won't say much more. But definitely a very interesting and complex film.


THE MUSE - While we're on the topic of screenwriters, we'll add this silly comedy from Albert Brooks to the list. Albert Brooks is a love him or hate him kinda guy (right Academy?), but if you love him and his movies in general...you'll enjoy this enough. An added bonus comes if you're a movie buff and enjoy the process of filmmaking because it's definitely a love letter to the creative process. This movie, in which Brooks, a screenwriter who has seemingly lost his edge and inspiration until he meets a real-life muse, is full of director cameos and general winks to film fans. It's fluff, but being that it's Albert Brooks fluff it's a little more fun/memorable than it could have been.

Apologies for the flash frames and the creepy child's laughter at the end. That is not a part of the movie, but for some reason the youtube user felt to upload that as "credits"

MIDNIGHT IN PARIS - Unlike Barton Fink, Owen Wilson's Gil in Midnight in Paris has yet to be converted to the idea of becoming a screenwriter, even though, his nagging girlfriend insists it's the right career move. He'd rather keep working on his novel...but the only problem is he can't get it quite right. Lucky for him, he's in Paris and the city serves as a muse for him. Doubly lucky is that somehow he also finds a way to transport himself into 1920's Paris and meets various prominent literary and culture figures to help him. I mean if you can't be inspired by THAT to write something, what would work for you??

ALEX & EMMA - If you can't find a makeshift portal to the 1920's as in Midnight in Paris, you'll just have to make do and imagine your own poor man's Gatsbyesque plot...and Alex & Emma does just that. The movie begins with the age-old cliche of a man owing gambling debts, that then of course has his life threatened by some thugs wanting him to pay up. The threat on his life inspires him to...finish his novel? By doing so, he can pay everything back of course. The only problem is, he's got writers block! Since the thugs smashed his computer he, of course, has no choice but to spend even more money and hire a stenographer (how that thought ever crossed his mind I'll never know since he could have, you know... just written it down on paper...) But oh no! The stenographer has an opinion about everything, and they're at each other's throats so much that clearly there must be something under the surface right??? And that something may be just what the writer needs to be inspired to where the story needs to go. This movie is pretty average, but you could do worse... Or have nothing at all. Because in this decade this genre seems pretty much extinct. So stupid fluff yes, but since rom-com fluff is a rare commodity these days, by all means..enjoy.

MOULIN ROUGE/SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE - These two movies have almost the same delightful plot if you really think about it. Both protagonists are hot, young, idealistic writers who don't know what to do with the stories they've been commissioned to write until the right woman comes along and inspires them. They must keep their love a secret, but luckily their lady love is performing in the lead part in the play they wrote which brings them closer together (and gives them plenty of time to fool around behind the scenes). As the lead writer, they're always around to give out pointers to their secret lovers' performances, often to the chagrin of everyone around them...and in turn from their respective love stories, they receive more and more inspiration for where the story will go next. But hey, uh at least the endings are different!

STRANGER THAN FICTION - If you're having writers block, take a minute to consider that there might possibly be a very good reason. Like say maybe that the characters you're writing about somehow might not be fictional... and perhaps methods of killing them aren't coming to you for your own eventual peace of mind. I mean I don't know about you, but I wouldn't really want to be responsible for killing a real human being, who I thought was my own creation. Such is the story of Harold Crick in Stranger Than Fiction. I really like this movie, it's a fantastical idea and a fun one. Though I do have a little trouble swallowing some of the motivations by Dustin Hoffman's character near the end of the movie, it's hardly a dealbreaker.

RUBY SPARKS - Sometimes you create characters and you're unaware of their existence until you're about to kill them (see previous..) and SOMETIMES you create characters for the sole purpose of serving YOU. In each case, both characters magically do exist but both serve very different purposes to their creators. Ruby Sparks began merely as an exercise and soon became a person the author God could control if he wished to abuse that power. She started as the ultimate cure to a decade long writers block, but then literally came to life and fulfilled every need he had. The dilemma soon comes in letting her be her own person at the expense of her starting to have a mind of her own that might lead her to make the same decision all ex-girlfriends made when being in a relationship too long with our protagonist.

THE SHINING - So far we've seen a lot of the creatively wonderful ways writers block can eventually help a writer come up with something fantastical, something inspiring or just plainly lead the writer into fall in love with his muse. But now.... we get to the "writers block makes you go murderously crazy section!" Don't worry, there's only two entries for that (and though they definitely range in quality, both are ultimately fun.) Sometimes you're given MONTHS to come up with something...and you're even in an isolated place with no distractions to keep you from inspiration. And yet all your brain can manage is one measly sentence. An iconic sentence to be sure, but merely a sentence worth of substance typed over and over and OVER again until your brain melts into mush and you want to kill anybody you see. Aka the standard definition of writers block.

SECRET WINDOW - See previous entry. Haha just kidding, I'll go into a bit more depth than just that. Yes there's a lot of similarities to The Shining and with good reason. Both this and The Shining came from author Stephen King...so I'd say it's a safe bet to guess that the man suffered from the block a time or two. But what's worse than just writers block? Maybe someone accusing you of plagiarism in the middle of said writers block. This is what happens to poor ol' Johnny Depp soon after his wife Maria Bello cheated on him (!?) making him even more emotionally vulnerable. Luckily the accusation and all the terror that follows it of course only lends itself to the perfect type of material one blocked writer could use in his next book or his next [SPOILER highlight to read ]murder. [/end spoiler.]

BONUS: THE LOST WEEKEND -I saw this elsewhere on movies about writers block, and though it is....I don't think the block was ever the problem. This movie is pure and simply about alcoholism. In my opinion, writers block was only ever the excuse. But very well done for the subject it is about!


Sarah said...

Well, who knew that there were so many movies about writers block? I remember being pretty disappointed in Alex and Emma...possibly because it was advertised as a much better movie than it actually was. The interesting thing is that it is almost a remake of another similar movie about writers block: Paris When It Sizzles with William Holden and Audrey Hepburn. You should check it out. It, also, could have been a much better movie than it actually was. Sometimes writers block doesn't have a successful outcome, I guess!

Emily said...

I remember thinking the same. What's interesting is going back and watching these early 2000's movies like that and Secret Window, that initially I was much more critical of. I guess I have a weird nostalgia for mediocre 2000's filmmaking now.

Johanna said...

Now I really want to see some of these; Barton Fink & Adaptation especially!

And there are some very, very good movies about writing.

Sunset Boulevard is a little writer's blockish. :)

We'll have to talk about the Dustin Hoffman character in Stranger Than Fiction. I liked him and read some things about his motivations, so perhaps I have some answers. Plus he has one of the best philosophies, this paraphrase from IMDB: Whether you choose living your life or eating pancakes depends on the life being lived, and the quality of the pancakes.

Oh, and a good line. I brought you flours.