Five Movies That Get Me In The Mood To Write
I don’t believe in writer’s block, but I do believe in writer’s malaise. Sometimes I just can’t get my ass in gear. When that happens I find that certain movies get the creative juices flowing and I can always rely on these five to get me sprinting to the keyboard. This isn’t a list of my favorite movies. Gun to my head I’d say that honor goes to Miller’s Crossing, but ask me next week and I might say The Great Escape or Chinatown. And this isn’t a list of great movies about writing, of which there are many. This is simply a list of the flicks that get me moving.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (Walter Hill 1969)
Quick, what’s the plot of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid? There really isn’t one. It’s just a couple of vignettes about good friends trying to get over in the world they live in. It’s pretty much a meandering story that goes nowhere until the characters meet their untimely end. Then why does it work? It works because we love the characters so damn much. It’s driven solely by their charisma and when it’s over I want to keep hanging out with them. But I can’t. They’re dead. So I have to create my own characters with whom I want to hang out with. On second thought, that sounds really sad. I have friends. I don’t’ have to write fake friends. Let’s just move on to the next movie.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (Shane Black 2003)
I grew up on Shane Black movies. He is to me what Richard Pryor is to stand-up comedians. I know, I know. I should be waxing poetic about Elmore Leonard and Raymond Chandler. They are, indeed, great influences on me, but if I am being honest about where my sensibilities come from then it’s all Black. Black essentially did to noir what heavy metal did to blues. He took the basic riffs and turned up the volume. So, it’s no surprise that his directorial debut was an homage to that noir tradition. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is so self-referential the title comes from a Pauline Kael essay and each chapter shares the title of a Chandler novel. It’s essentially a love letter to writing filled with grammar jokes and the greatest example of hanging something from the lampshade ever. It’s manic and fun and when the closing credits start to scroll I’ve already got a dozen new ideas.
The Italian Job (Collinson 1969; that’s the original not that tepid piece of crap mini cooper commercial starring A Set of Mumbling Abs and Edward Norton’s mustache)
It’s the ending. Who ends a movie like that? It’s a literal cliffhanger; as in the bus is hanging off of a cliff when Michael Caine (who is among the five coolest cats ever to live) gives a little smile and says “Hang on, lads; I’ve got a great idea.” Roll credits. Now, that is one the ballsiest endings in all of cinema. Also, you have to take into account that the previous 99 minutes is spent slipping into the unparalleled hipness that is London in the late 1960’s and then, BAM, that ending. So, for me, the whole movie is like a pump up mix getting me ready before a big game. And that reminds me, there are few better soundtracks to listen to while writing than this one, which was scored by Mr. Quincy Jones himself. Well, then again…
The Magnificent Seven (John Sturges 1960)
You may like Tombstone and that’s a good movie, but for a collection of badasses delivering badass lines there is no better movie than The Magnificent Seven. From Steve McQueen delivering “We deal in lead” to Charles Bronson’s last words, “Damn right!”, nothing comes close. Every time I watch it I get an itch to write just one piece of dialogue as crisp and clear as the dozens of great lines found here. Some of them aren’t even clever they’re just delivered so well. Take a look at James Coburn when he outdraws a gunslinger with his knife (Yes, with his knife). The gunman jumps up and down telling everyone he won. Coburn just gets a cup of coffee and says over his shoulder, “You lost.” Everything you need to know about introducing a hero is right there in that scene. And, really, is there anything in the world as motivating as that score? If you belly up to the laptop and fire up that soundtrack and you still can’t get yourself psyched up to kick some ass then, I’m sorry. I can’t help you. I hear they’re doing a remake. It won’t be as good because it can’t be as good.
Stripes (Ivan Reitman 1981)
Sometimes writing is more about motivation than it is about inspiration. Then there are times where you just need to get out of your own head and laugh for a while. For my money Stripes might just be the funniest movie ever if only because it casts Bill Murray and Harold Ramis as romantic leads against P.J. Soles and Sean Young respectively. Add to that the Big Toe that is Sergeant Hulka and you’ve got a pretty good afternoon ahead of you. If things aren’t going well with my work-in-progress and I just need to reboot, there is no better way to spend a hundred minutes.
Shaun Harris grew up as the son of a homicide detective in Southern New England. He has a degree in American Studies and Film and Television from the University of Notre Dame. As such he has a crippling obsession with college football. He now lives in rural Wisconsin with his wife and two kids. Jim Rockford is his spirit guide. His debut novel, THE HEMINGWAY THIEF, was released yesterday.