Writer's Impediment

October 30, 2006
A thought by James Berardinelli

Writer's block has never been a problem for me. When there are long lags between ReelThoughts entries it's usually one of three things: I'm taking a break, I'm busy doing other things, or I have some sort of temporary infirmity that is limiting my writing. I have never been "blocked." In fact, it's usually the opposite: I have too many ideas fighting for the attention of my conscious mind. It requires discipline to focus on only one. (This is why I elected to finish writing The Price of Terror before moving on to other fiction. I hate unfinished business, yet there are probably four of five novels I started but never completed.)

My recent slump, however, is not the result of laziness or overwork. Instead, one of those nasty realities of doing yardwork without gloves caught up to me. At least it was only my body that suffered the ill effects and not my mind. When an affliction impacts my brain, it can have odd consequences. I recall writing a review of the movie Guncrazy with a 102-degree (Fahrenheit) fever. The result, when perused in retrospect, left me aghast with its incoherence. I cleaned things up before posting it, but the result probably represents a nadir as far as my reviews are concerned. (The link leads to the revised version, which should either be further manicured or deleted altogether.)

Generally, if I see a movie when I'm as sick as a dog, I re-watch it before writing the review (or I don't write the review). Sometimes, if an illness isn't too bad, it can be beneficial. Nearly my entire James Bond review collection was assembled while I was stranded home from work over a two week period in early 1996 by a combination of two snowstorms and a cold. During that period, I wrote a review per day.

A week and a half ago, I was doing a little minor fall cleaning in my backyard. Normally, I wear gloves when working in the yard, but this was only a 15-minute nuisance job, so I didn't bother. 36 hours later, there was itching and blistering. 24 hours beyond that, all ten fingers (including thumbs) were swollen and sensitive to the touch. Poison ivy (or poison oak).

Sitting through movies last week wasn't a problem. With the rash properly medicated, I was able to concentrate on pictures about pedophile priests, serial killers, and anti-Apartheid freedom fighters. In fact, I saw five films. Writing was another matter. It was a ginger, painstaking process. A single review (which normally takes between 30 and 40 minutes) demanded two hours of torturous keystroking. It was hunting and pecking with my right thumb (the least impacted of my digits) rather than the smooth touch typing I'm used to. My reviews did not suffer last week but ReelThoughts readers were left without new entries.

The rash is now gone and I'm back to normal - just in time to field all the e-mail that will flood in about my review of Borat is posted. (The fact that I "only" gave it 3 stars will generate responses - sometimes by people who haven't seen the movie.) I'm curious to see whether the film gains any traction beyond its appeal to the college-age crowd. There's no question that those in the 17-30 year-old group are going to love it. But what about older viewers? Is Borat destined to be a cult hit or can it become a mainstream blockbuster? Damned if I know. The Saturday Night Live "crossover" was clever (about the only time this year when one can use SNL and "clever" in the same sentence), but will this sort of marketing result in more tickets sold? Two overhyped movies of 2006 have already gone down in flames. Snakes on Plane was a huge disappointment to New Line Cinema. And Death of a President was assassinated this weekend. On 91 screens, it managed a paltry $167,000 over three days. Will Borat buck the trend by riding the hype wave to the promised land? It has the advantage of being the only one of the three worth seeing, and that could represent the difference.