short films

Abused typewriter keys, crumpled paper: Scenes from movies featuring writer’s block

‘Should I drink coffee now, or should I write first and reward myself later?’

Columnist Roger Simon has that famous quote about writer’s block, “My father never had truck driver’s block. Why should I have writer’s block?”

But the problem does exist. Writer’s Block – A Super Cut, edited by Ivan Kander and Ben Watts, features scenes from 53 American movies that show writers being unable to write. They are cracking their fingers, banging away at typewriters, laptops and personal computers, and filling their waste paper baskets with balls of crumpled paper. The video begins with a scene from the Spike Jonze-Charlie Kaufman collaboration Adaptation (2002), a semi-autobiographical story of Kaufman’s experiences while trying to bring The Orchard Thief, a book he considered unfilmable, to the big screen.

Writer’s Block – A Supercut

The montage draws attention to the fact that despite there being so many films about writers, writing is inherently an uncinematic act. Visually, there aren’t too many ways to show somebody sitting at a desk and typing. Added to that is the problem of how realistic the typing should look? Unless, of course, your actor belongs to Method school of acting and actually types instead of banging away aimlessly at the keyboard.

This was a problem faced by cult director Alex Cox when he was going to direct the film version of Hunter S Thompson’s Gonzo novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The novel has the beloved “Wave” passage about how America has changed over the years. Cox thought that animation was the best route to take in the screen adaptation, which Thompson disagreed with. The two fell out, and Terry Gilliam, who eventually took over directing duties, brought his own touch to the passage.

‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’.

In the top 10 lists on the arthouse DVD label Criterion, not one includes a film about writers and writing. This might be because of two reasons. One is that a novel about a writer will have the ability to depict the character’s interior monologue far more accurately than a movie. Another is that writers might object to such scenes because of possible inconsistencies and inaccuracies.

The Coen brothers’ Barton Fink, about a screenwriter struggling to finish his screenplay, dispenses with realism, creating in the process one of the best-known depictions of writer’s block for the screen.

‘Barton Fink’.
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