on 8 August 2007
Watching "Barton Fink" will be a torture if you don't like Coen Bros and their unique style of filmmaking: ironic, surrealistic and allegorical. Winner of 3 prizes at Cannes including the Palme D'or in 1991, Barton Fink is no exception at all, even it is the most eccentric and enigmatic work in their filmography. Here, don't expect "Big Lebowski" or "O' Brother Where Art Thou" type of dark comedy or "Blood Simple" or "Fargo" type of thriller. This is PROFOUND and UNUSUAL kinda movie. Challenging all available genres and defying a simple categorization, it is almost a comedy, almost a thriller, almost a horror, almost nothing...
Writing a script about a screenwriter by taking a satiric look at Hollywood seems a great Coenistic idea, just like their other brilliance, "Hudsucker Proxy". Set in early 1940s, the story centers around a commie writer's living Hell on Earth after being paralyzed by writer's block in a bizarre hotel room in California. He's a sinner and must be punished, because he let down the "common man". Instead of staying in NY and assisting the Theatre, he moved to Hollywood in order to make a buck by writing clichéd screenplays for B-grade wrestling flicks for greedy and blustery Hollywood hotshots. Yes, he's a sinner and must be condemned to Hell, Hotel Earle.
The film tries to find its own answer to this question: does any creative, non-commercial art like literature or drama provide individual and/or societal enlightenment, or does it produce entanglement ultimately leading to solipsism, egocentricity and self-absorption?
By doing this, the movie does a creative and unique study of human psyche, utilizing a rich array of symbols and metaphors we see nearly all Coen films: Oppressively hot atmosphere all along; Hotel Earle itself, wallpaper sweating off the wall, leaving a viscous ooze in its wake; endless, cavernous hallways; ventilators; cadaverous and pock-marked elevator man; mosquito bites; never opened mysterious box; hundreds of shoes put outside the doors in expectation of free shine offered by hotel; lots of oddballs, perfect dialogue and subtle humor. Highly recommended...
on 8 October 2006
Barton Fink, the Coen Brothers' fourth film, won the Best Director and Golden Palm awards at the 1991 Cannes Film Festival, as well as the Best Actor award for John Turturro. With an engaging script, great character performances by, among others, Turturro and Goodman, Barton Fink is funny and gripping in equal measure. Ethan Coen mused in an interview that this was "a buddy movie for the 1990s" [see [...] but, like other films made by the Coen Brothers, Barton Fink cannot be neatly categorised and is a film of stark contrasts. Violent, yet humorous, this is a psycho-drama with a host of amusing and intriguing characters.
Barton Fink (Turturro) is a serious and critically-acclaimed playwright in 1940s New York. Having come to the attention of a Hollywood movie mogul, he is lured to Los Angeles to write for the movies. Finding himself contracted to write a "wrestling" film, Fink is tormented by writer's block and seeks help from another writer's secretary (Judy Davis). Lodged in the eerie Hotel Earle, with its dim lighting, peeling wallpaper and eccentric plumbing system, Fink also encounters his neighbour, insurance-seller Charlie Meadows (Goodman). Despite passionately espousing the virtues of theatre for and about "the common man", Fink's lack of interest in his neighbour's own stories about working life has disturbing consequences. It is the heightened drama in Fink's own life that finally gives him the impetus he needs to write again.
It is the Coen Brothers' characteristic wry, ironic sense of humour and quirky style, together with Turturro's intense brooding performance as Fink often captured in long takes and periods of silence, which makes watching this film a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
This marvellous surreal movie from the Coen brothers centers around Barton Fink (John Turturro), a successful New York playwright who is lured to Hollywood with the prospect of big money and stardom. On arrival though he gets writers block and is unable to produce the screenplay for the wrestling picture that Jack Lipnick requires.
Lipnick as played by Michael Lerber is the classic studio boss taken to the extreme. Both terrifying in his power and very funny. A truly mesmerising performance by Lerner. However the cast are all excellent. John Mahoney is also great as W.P. Mayhew a famous Hollywood writer that Barton looks to for help. As it turns out he is a roaring drunk and his wife actually does most of the writing. The scenes involving Mayhew are hilarious. A lot of the time he is not even in shot but you can hear him screaming in the background (for example "Honey! Where's my honey?") as Barton tries to arrange a meeting with him through his wife.
And then there is John Goodman. He plays Charlie Meadows ostensibly an insurance salesman staying in a room near Barton in the same hotel. However Meadows is not what he seems, but I'll leave it up to you to decide what he really is..... Goodman as he was in The Big Lebowski is in scene stealing form.
So this is a typical Coen brothers movie, very funny in places, very weird in places, and overall superb.
on 9 May 2012
This BD has already been released in Australia and at at au$12.98 price point, if not cheaper in some locations.
As the disc is adorned with more territory censor ratings, it's clear it's a region free disc and what will appear in UK and Europe.
It's a very good transfer of the the early Coen Bros noirish take on Hollywood in the 1940s, with dedicated socialist NYC playwright Barton Fink
(John Turturro, excellent as always)being seduced by the $$$$ Tinseltown has to offer. It turns nasty and borderline horror when it seems his neighbour
in the faded elegance of his Hollywood hotel room just might be a serial killer. The film develops a wonderful dream-like atmosphere. It looks better in this BD
presentation than any previous incarnation I can recall. Zero extras, though, so the 5 stars is for the film and the transfer only.
on 1 December 2014
Academics will tell you it's dangerous to brand something `postmodern' as there is no cast-iron definition of the term. It has accrued so many meanings as to be meaningless. However there is consensus on certain aspects. If modernism presupposes the existence of an overall explanation for everything it is the mission of modernist artists to reach up to gain an understanding of the world, to assess the position of man in it through systems of their own construction. Postmodernism starts off with the assumption that the world is beyond understanding and that such a reaching up is pointless. There is no rhyme or reason for human existence and no `blueprint' explaining everything to us. Modernist systems which claim to offer an explanation are therefore threatening. From this emanates an essentially paranoid worldview where artists (especially writers and filmmakers) accept in their work that while it is only human to seek out an understanding, comprehension is always denied by forces beyond their control. This is the 'reality' which determines their characters' fate in ways that defy logic. A film which exemplifies this to perfection is the Coen brothers' 1991 masterpiece, Barton Fink.
The surface of Barton Fink is beguilingly simple. The politically-engaged leftish writer Barton Fink (a stunning John Turturro who will never do anything better than this) makes it big on Broadway in 1941 with his play, `Bare Ruined Choirs'. His agent (David Warrilow) tells him Capitol Pictures in Hollywood are offering $1,000 a week to write screenplays. Barton worries about cutting himself off from `the common man', the audience for and of whom he writes. He accepts the offer and following a linking image of a wave crashing on a rock on a beach, he checks into the Hotel Earle in Hollywood with Chet (that `funny looking' Steve Buscemi) the desk clerk. The hotel is a dark, seedy dump chosen by Barton to stay closer to his `common man'. His room on the 6th floor is damp, mosquito-ridden and has wallpaper sweating off the walls. On the wall in front of his writing desk is a tacky picture of a girl sunbathing on a beach looking away at the waves. The walls are thin and external noises together with his dank surroundings quickly install a state of writer's block in Barton as he sits at his typewriter staring at the picture and the wall that surrounds it, his mind empty of ideas. Most of the film alternates between scenes conveying his mind slowly becoming unhinged in his room (both induced and assuaged by his noisy insurance salesman neighbor Charlie [a wonderfully out-sized performance from an equally out-sized John Goodman]) and scenes at the studio which showcase the glitzy glamour of Hollywood during this period. Jack Lipnick (Michael Lerner in his element) is the arrogant blustery head of Capitol Pictures who with his cringe-worthy side-kick Lou Breeze (the usual sweaty Jon Polito - check out the gallery of greasy weirdoes he's played for the Coens down the years!) assigns Barton to producer Ben Geisler (Tony Shalhoub) to write a wrestling picture for Wallace Beery. Alone and clueless about how to write a genre picture (the Coens' métier of course!) Barton turns to legendary (now alcoholic has-been) writer Bill Mayhew (John Mahoney) and his secretary/bed partner Audrey Taylor (a sensual Judy Davis) for help.
That's as much as I'm going to say about the story for after this, the film spirals down into fantastical depths which confound any attempt to impose logic on to events as they transpire. Joyfully juggling many themes simultaneously, the Coens ingeniously have us grappling with enormous ideas which all seem to make sense, but when examined closely, plainly don't. Let's run through a few of them. Most obviously the film would appear to be about the very process of artistic creation - how a writer takes everything from around him and sublimates it into his creation to produce something rich and satisfying which overcomes the block that initially chokes him. The dingy room echoes Barton's dingy neighbor Charlie. Just as the wallpaper sweats off the walls so pus oozes out of Charlie's infected ear and sweat pours off his body. Mosquitoes plague the room, their high pitch whine segueing seamlessly into the high pitch violins on Carter Burwell's wonderful soundtrack as Barton is bitten and perhaps `inspired'. Barton's relations with Charlie and then with Mayhew and Audrey conspire to assuage his loneliness and break his writer's block to produce what he thinks is his best ever work.
Within this meditation on artistic creativity the film explores the gap between the artist with a social conscience and his subject. Barton writes about "the common man" without really knowing who the common man is. His conversations with Charlie reveal how in love with himself he is through his pretentious posing as an artist of the people as he rattles on arrogantly, not bothering to listen to the common man living next door. Charlie repeatedly tells him, "I have so many stories to tell", but Barton doesn't want to hear them. As Charlie tells him near the end of the film: "You don't listen!" Looking around his seedy working class standard hotel room Charlie stresses emphatically, "You are nothing put a tourist with a typewriter. I LIVE here!" He not only lives there, but his understanding of `the life of the mind' is incomparably greater than Barton's condescending pretension could ever grasp - "Look upon me! I'll show you the life of the mind!" Charlie insists.
This social division feeds into the theme of slavery. In the hotel Barton may be able to lord it over his neighbor who he regards as his intellectual inferior, but when he's at the film studio the tables are turned if his scripts turn out to be unsatisfactory. If he fails to fulfill his promise it is Barton who is the slave. As Lipnick tells him, "Capitol Pictures owns everything in your head" and as with so many writers before him (including Mayhew of course) in the event of failure he would become a mere serf in a feudal empire run by a movie mogul. He would become even lower than Lou Breeze (a lavatorial pun surely!) who is used and abused by his lord and master at will. This is brilliantly shown in the swimming pool scene where Breeze prompts a reluctant Barton to show Lipnick his work in progress. Barton is the writer of a potential blockbuster for the studio and enjoys a higher social position than Breeze, and so Lipnick fires his sidekick and even insists on licking Barton's shoe himself to apologize for Breeze's presumption, the idea being that even studio heads are subservient to the writers who keep them in business (no writers = no pictures). But Barton gets to retain his exalted position only of course if he produces golden scripts...
The theme of slavery feeds into the even bigger theme of fascism and its connection with anti-Semitism. Fascism is shown to be present in both ends of social spectrum - the wealthy Lipnick (a Jew like all the studio heads at that time) lording it over his studio in his military junta-style uniform straight from the costume department and then the two working class policemen who show up at the hotel to question Barton. Named Mastrionotti and Deutsch to reflect the fascist axis powers then fighting in the war (remember this is 1941), they ask Barton if he's a Jew and express regret that the hotel isn't restricted. Later, the lowlife `working stiff' (Barton's words) who they are looking for utters the words, "Heil Hitler" before committing a crime.
The stress on Barton's Jewish faith (also shared by Lipnick and the Coens themselves) leads us naturally into the film's biggest theme - religion. Thinking he has betrayed his `common man' by selling out to Hollywood, Barton sentences himself out of a sense of self-inflicted guilt to Hell (Hotel Earl = Hell). When he checks in the lobby is dark, hot and smoky as if fire is omnipresent. The bell on the reception desk resounds eternally until Chet the desk clerk emerges from below to silence it. Chet's demeanor is weird, his artificial politeness contrasting completely with the funereal countenance of the elevator man who takes Barton up to floor 6, 666 being the Devil's number of course. When Barton opens his typewriter we see the maker is `Underwood' (Underwood = Underworld). The Hotel Earl as Hell theme escalates in importance when we appreciate that Charlie is a human extension of the hotel. I've already mentioned the oozing pus pouring from his ear paralleling the water seeping out of the walls and that he is a working class man living in a working class hotel room. We further learn he has extra-sensory perception and can hear everything going on in other rooms - "pipes or somethin'", he says. Also, the way he talks about his insurance job makes him sound like an evangelist - "I just sell peace of mind, that's all", he says. Later in the film he comments, "Most guys I just feel sorry for. Yeah. It tears me up inside, to think about what they are going through. How trapped they are. I understand it. I feel for `em. So I try to help them out". In the hotel (and possibly outside as well) he is omniscient, just like God.
At first resistant to, but then reliant on Charlie's neighborliness, Barton's writer's block is related to his extreme loneliness and acute sexual repression. Similar to Roman Polanski's apartment psycho-horror films (Repulsion , Rosemary's Baby , The Tenant ), the hotel (Hell/Charlie) comes alive and ratchets up his stress and paranoia. To really hammer home the importance of religion in the film the Coens directly cite the Bible at key moments. When Barton is at the peak of desperation, Charlie having left him alone, he finds a Bible in his desk. We read: "And the king, Nebuchadnezzar, answered and said to the Chaldeans, I recall not my dream; if ye will not make known unto me my dream, and its interpretation, ye shall be cut to pieces, and of your tents be made a dunghill" (Daniel: 2, 5). It would be telling too much to reveal the full meaning of this quote in relation to the film, but let's just say it shows Barton can't understand his own emotions let alone the hopes and dreams of the common man. It also refers directly to World War Two (Daniel interprets Nebuchadnezzar's dream as a statement on the rise and fall of world powers with the king's Babylonian gold the first to fall) and to Barton's possible insanity at this point of the film (God made Nebuchadnezzar insane for 7 years as punishment for his pride). Significantly Mayhew gives him a copy of his novel entitled `Nebuchadnezzar', with an inscription that reads: "A little entertainment to divert you in your sojourn among the Philistines", the Philistines of course being the Hollywood system. A second Biblical reference is made to the book of Genesis where Barton imagines the first paragraph of his script prefacing the words, "And God said, let there be light" (Genesis: 1, 3) which suggests paranoid delusions of grandeur on his part as omnipotent/omniscient writer-creator which rival those of Charlie.
So how are we to connect all this together and make meaningful sense? Once we recognize the latter events of the film as illogical and clearly fantastical we have to accept the film works on the level of dream logic. But, whose dream, and from where to where do we access it? Interpreting the film from Barton's point of view there are two obvious possible dream portals. The first is the framing image of a wave crashing against a rock which covers the ellipse moving from New York to Hollywood and then signals the end after the action proper has finished and before the epilog with the girl on the beach which repeats in real life the picture in Barton's hotel room. This means that Barton never actually leaves New York. He stays with his `common man'. The Hollywood segment of the film is then a projected fantasy of what COULD happen if he accepted Capitol Pictures' offer. If this interpretation is correct however, then the final epilog remains enigmatic. The second dream portal could be the closing epilog itself casting the whole film that precedes it as a fantasy on events which have led to Barton sitting on the beach ogling a girl and holding a mysterious box. Throughout the film Barton stares at the picture on his wall and we hear the sound of waves and the cry of seagulls. Counting the number of times `fish' appears in the dialog, especially at the beginning, can become obsessive for an attentive audience!
There is another interpretation, and for me it is the only one to really explain everything we are given in the film. For it we should pay attention to the wallpaper over which the opening and closing credits roll. We later find out it is the wallpaper of the Hotel Earle, but I'd suggest it could be another hotel entirely and the man suffering from writer's block staring at this paper isn't Barton Fink, but the Coen brothers themselves. In Barton Fink they have made a meta-cinematic film about their own writers' block. Significantly the Coens wrote the script during a forced hiatus in the making of Miller's Crossing (1990) when the writer-directors ran out of inspiration and it transparently reflects precise feelings felt at the time. By writing the script the brothers unblocked themselves so that they could go back and finish the gangster film before embarking on their new project. The character of Barton is a doppelgänger for themselves and the events of the film are projections or symptoms of his/their writers' block. This serves to free up their imagination. Knowing their film doesn't have to make sense (blocked writers are hardly reliable narrators), the Coens delight in deploying a bewildering range of styles which gleefully contradict each other in what amounts to a postmodern pastiche. There is exaggerated social satire for the New York restaurant scene where high society fawns over Barton's Broadway success. There is the screwball comedy depiction of the world of Capitol Pictures with Barton playing Sullivan (from Preston Sturges' Sullivan's Travels ) to the gag-a-second wisecracking of Geisler and Lipnick reminiscent of the world of Frank Capra and Howard Hawks as well as Sturges. Then there is the noirish depiction of Hollywood excess in the depiction of Mayhew and Audrey which links to the world of Sunset Blvd. (1950, Billy Wilder), In a Lonely Place (1950, Nicholas Ray) and Sweet Smell of Success (1957, Alexander McKendrick). The film is dominated though by shades of Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter filtered through Polanski to depict the Hellish Hotel Earle. This eventually accelerates into Gothic horror and the world of Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (1980) towards the end of the film.
Aside from delighting in intertextual pastiche, the Coens also indulge in sizable dollops of faction. When you are blocked, who do you base your characters on but real people? Barton is based squarely on the lefty Broadway playwrite Clifford Odetts who also left the common man for Hollywood. The Coens gave Turturro Odetts' journal to read as preparation and the opening play `Bare Ruined Choirs' is clearly an Odetts parody. Lipnick is a conflation of three famous movie moguls - he has the weight of Harry Cohn, the Jewish-Russian (from Minsk) ethnicity of Louis B. Meyer and the Colonel's uniform of Jack Warner borrowed from the wardrobe department in a bid to enlist in the war. While Geisler probably has his own role model, Mayhew is clearly based on William Faulkner, another great writer turned alcoholic. John Mahoney was cast mainly because he looks like him and both he and his secretary speak with the Deep South accent Faulkner is famed for.
A meta-cinematic feast foregrounding intertextual pastiche, faction, the blurring of high and low culture (genre cinema meets Heidegger and the Bible), playful (but biting) ironic humor and strung together with pervasive paranoia leading to an inconclusive ending (what IS in the box?), Barton Fink is a postmodern smorgasboard which works brilliantly on all its different levels. Deliciously entertaining, dazzlingly written, beautiful shot by Roger Deakins and performed to perfection, the film deservedly picked up all three main awards at Cannes that year and represents the Coens at their considerable best. The DVD itself is excellent, the picture clear and well saturated and the sound well-rounded. Highly recommended.
I don't think the Coen's have made a bad film- even their lost work with Sam Raimi, 1985's Crimewave has some positive points. Some of their film might depend on the mood of the viewer- works that are maybe too quirky such as The Big Lebowski & The Hudsucker Proxy may not be as dependable as the more 'serious' works such as Fargo & Miller's Crossing (personally I'm more of a Lebowski man...). But this 1991 film manages to bridge the gap between the absurd and the serious...
This won several major awards, such as an unprecedented three awards at Cannes- so I can't see how this is 'undervalued'- a tag which is more suited to The Hudsucker Proxy or Lebowksi. Coen's regular John Turturro is the eponymous hero- a writer not dissimilar to Clifford Odets (Waiting for Lefty), who has a romanticised theory of the working classes, which was in vogue in the 30's/40s, pre-McCarthy. He is offered the chance to go & write scripts in Hollywood- making one think of such luminaries as Raymond Chandler, William Faulkner & Nathaniel West, who all did the same...
Fink checks into a hotel, populated by the seemingly unsleeping Chet (Steve Buscemi), mosquitos, thin walls, falling wallpaper & a bizarre insurance salesman (John Goodman). He also enters the equally absurd world of Hollywood- where he is commisioned to write a wrestling flick; it is here he begins to experience writer's block. A guy from the studio suggests he talk to another writer, enter John Mahoney as a soused scribe & his 'secretary', Judy Davis. Then Fink wakes up to the best 'corpse in a bed'-scene since The Godfather and then some cops appear, asking about headless corpses & if Fink knows anything about it...
This is a very Beckettian piece- Fink is trapped in an absurd hell once inside the hotel, while Hollywood becomes more surreal- especially when the studio head (Michael Lerner) is dressed as a General in the final meeting. The cops who question Fink seem like a Dashiel Hammett take on the interrogators at the heart of Pinter's The Birthday Party. There is much that is amusing here- Fink's pretentiousness regarding 'the common man', the dance sequence that ends in a fight, the kissing the feet sequence...
It is also clear that the Coen's aren't suffering from 'writer's block' as another review suggests: the lead character is (much like John Cusack in Bullets Over Broadway- cowritten by a Simpsons writer who referred to Barton Fink in a great episode of the animated series). The idea that the creators of this suffering from writer's block is absurd when (i) they frequently stockpile scripts and (ii) when the dialogue is as great as it is here. It's like saying Jonathan Demme is suffering from a terminal disease, as the central character of Philadelphia is; a lazy-assed auteur application...
Barton Fink is an absurd, almost postmodern hell (Goodman stating "Heil Hitler!" before offing a policeman)- a world that is close to a horror film (walls on fire, seemingly empty hotel out of The Shining, temperature shifts, headless corpses), but is too funny & knowing- making it all the more disturbing. Another Coen's classic then...
Welcome to the wonderfully wacky world of the Coen brothers. Joel and Ethan Coen are two of the most brilliant filmmakers in the world today. Every film they turn out is a cinematic gem, and "Barton Fink" is no exception.
The film centers around a slightly pompous, idealistic, left wing playwright, Barton Fink (John Turturro), who in 1941, after becoming the toast of Broadway as the pretentious voice of the common man, goes west to Hollywood at the invitation of a major studio in order to try his hand at writing screenplays.
There, he meets studio head, Jack Lipnick (Michael Lerner), and his yes man and whipping boy, Lou Breeze (Jon Polito). Asked to write a screenplay for a Wallace Beery vehicle about wrestling, a subject about which the bookish Fink knows nothing about, causes Fink to go into a professional tailspin.
Ensconced in a decaying old hotel, seemingly run by its slightly creepy and unctuous bell hop, Chet (Steve Buscemi), who bizarrely appears on the scene out of a trapdoor behind the hotel's front desk, Fink begins his ordeal . The elevator is run by a cadaverous, pock marked, elderly man. The corridors of the hotel seem endless. The wallpaper in Fink's room is peeling away from the wall, leaving a viscous, damp ooze in its wake. His bed creaks and groans with a life of its own. It is also hot, oppressively hot.
No residents of the hotel are apparent, except for the appearance of shoes outside the doors in expectation of the free shoe shine the hotel offers its denizens and for the noise made by his neighbors. Finks meets one of his neighbors, the portly Charlie Meadows (John Goodman), a gregarious Everyman, possessed of an abundance of bonhomie. A self-styled insurance salesman, Charlie cajoles Fink out of his shell, befriending him in the process. Little does Fink know that beneath Charlie's congenial exterior lies a horrific secret that will spillover onto him in the not so distant future.
At a luncheon with studio under boss, Ben Geisler (Tony Shalhoub), Fink meets a famous writer that he reveres, W. P. Mayhew (John Mahoney), a southern sot so steeped in drink that his companion/secretary, Audrey Taylor (Judy Davis), has to do his writing for him. Fink falls for Audrey but finds his overtures rebuffed. Still, she is willing to try and help him overcome his profound writer's block. In a classic Coen twist, it is this single act of kindness that acts as the catalyst for the nightmare that makes Fink's life become a living hell on earth. He goes from living a life of self-imposed isolation and angst to one that appears to have been created by a Hollywood hack, filled as it is with the most incredible situations, a real studio head's dream.
John Turturro is terrific as the introverted, tightly wound, pretentious, and neurotic Fink, who in Hollywood, away from the womb of the Great White Way, is like a lamb led to the slaughter. With his sculpted afro, horn rimmed glasses, nerdy clothes, Fink is the stereotypic Hollywood notion of the commie writer. John Turturro makes the role his with a purposeful intensity.
John Goodman is sensational as the garrulous Charlie Meadow, the epitome of the working class man about whom Fink likes to write. Unfortunately, all is not as it seems, as Charlie has a dark side to him, a very dark side. John Mahoney is excellent as the Faulknerian-like writer, and Judy Davis outdoes herself, as the self-sacrificing Audrey Taylor.
Michael Lerner will razzle-dazzle the viewer with his over the top portrayal of a fast talking studio head who is willing to pay big bucks for the cache of having a top Broadway playwright turn out screenplay swill for the masses. Jon Polito is very good as the Uriah Heepish, quintessential yes man he portrays. Tony Shalhoub is excellent in his role, underscoring the absurdity of the old Hollywood studio system.
Steve Buscemi, looking surprisingly small in his bell hop uniform, resembles an organ grinder's monkey, at times. The viewer may also expect him to bellow, "Call for Phillip Morris", as in the old cigarette campaign, though he speaks in a controlled, respectful monotone, at all times. Still, his very presence adds a slightly sinister quality to the film, though he does nothing remotely sinister, other than the way he makes his screen appearance. His entrance onto the screen in this fashion foreshadows what is to come.
This film is not for everyone, as it does not have a neatly wrapped ending. Instead, it goes beyond the standard expected ending into an absurdist foray. Still, those who love films by the Coen Brothers will not be disappointed by this satiric look at Hollywood. It is little wonder that this film became the darling of the Cannes Film Festival.
Barton Fink (John Turturro) is a privileged successful New York playwright who pens plays on the struggles of the common man, something he believes is new. When he gets the call from Hollywood, he reluctantly takes the job. He finds himself at the Hotel Earle which has that "Stephen King" feel to it, with long silent corridors laced with shoes needing to be shined.
Steve Buscemi has a small role as Chet, the hotel clerk and bellhop. He could have made the film more interesting, but was not utilized. Barton's neighbor is Charlie Meadows (John Goodman) the common man who has never heard of Fink or his plays. It is clear from their initial meeting, Barton is too removed from the common man on which he champions. As the wallpaper peels off the walls from the heat, Barton struggles to write a story about a wrestler for his deadline.
Fink seeks out the aid of an established writer Bill Mayhew (John Mahoney) who has too many demons to be of any assistance. Like any good Coen film, just when things start to slow down, they leap forward in an unexpected way.
The film was interesting. The Coens did a lot of those movie effects, including one at the end I didn't quite grasp, but it looked clever and perhaps was one of those things you assign you own symbolism. I didn't like John Turturro as the lead. His "Eraser Head" look and sometimes mannerisms could have been better scripted. On the up side, you could feel with him the awkwardness of his various "fish out of water" situation. Definitely worth a view and an addition to your Coen collection.
Parental Guide: F-bomb, no sex, no nudity.
on 26 August 2010
It may be taking a liberty to call Barton Fink a classic in light of the Coen brothers' two Academy Award winners No Country For Old Men [DVD]  and Fargo [DVD] but this one is quirky and complicated enough to qualify as classic today and, probably, as a cult film in the future.
The manifest content of this dream-like sequence follows Coen brother favorite John Turturro (Miller's Crossing and The Big Lebowski) as a New York playwright who unwittingly makes a Faustian bargain with the devil and moves to Hell. Only, in this case of the Faust legend, the devil is a Hollywood film studio, where Turturro goes to ply his trade on a 1940s pre-war wrestling film script, and the devil is a salesman living in a hotel played by another Coen brothers favorite, John Goodman (O Brother, Where Art Thou? and The Big Lebowski).
I'll eschew the plot details other critics have embellished here other than to say, once the playwright hits Hollywood, it's clear to everyone with eyes that he's in Hell and sharing an abode with the devil. The Coen brothers made this so clear it boggles my mind to think how many critics missed the obvious storyline when the film came to theaters and how many more haven't grasped it in the intervening years it has appeared on DVD and television. It's as plain as the spike in the devil's tail, you might say.
The film has the usual cardboard characters, some with nothing but moveable lips, and the usual quirky storylines and underground themes -- in this case all the ills of society including alcoholism, hero worship, megalomania and escapism, witnessed by the final scene where the hero screenwriter finds a way to disappear into what appears to be a relaxing portrait of a girl in 1940s swimwear peering into the ocean.
This is an interesting and sometimes confusing film that ranked highly among the Coen brothers other movies of the 1990s before their breakthrough in Fargo and their fascination with big name actors including Tom Hanks, who bombed along with the brother in The Ladykillers, George Clooney and Catherine Zeta Jones, whose chemistry-less appearance in the failed romantic comedy Intolerable Cruelty did not convince them to abandon this formula. Fortunately, none of these big names appear in Barton Fink.
on 6 July 2011
I watched Barton Fink with no idea of what it was about although I have enjoyed several of the Coen brothers films such as O' brother where art thou and the Big Lebowski and was pleasantly surprised that it was entirely different.
I do enjoy the Coen Brothers movies but I also like directors/writers to try different genres and formulas. Barton Fink is definitely different and I think that this is its strength. The setting is very surreal and I found the hotel corridor set to be very striking which is important as it is seen quite often. I am a person who appreciates a good set design such as the ship in Event Horizon and find that the appealing simplicity of sets such as the hotel whose only member of staff seems to be the ubiquitous Chet played by Steve Buscemi works really well.
The 1930's Hollywood scene is really enjoyable and I think Michael Lerner and Tony Shalhoub's performances are brilliantly hilarious. John Turturro also gives a good performance and I particularly like the penultimate scene in which John Goodman's Charlie lets him know that he doesn't listen.
I won't pretend that I understood the whole concept of this film but I did find it compelling and would probably watch it again.