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“Barton Fink – Hollywood Delusions” (1991)

Directors: Ethan Coen & Joel Coen
With John Turturro, John Goodman, Michael Lerner & Judy Davis.

I reviewed it on Telecine yesterday. Great movie – Barton Fink won the Palme d’Or as well as Best Director and Best Actor (Turturro) awards – tells the following story:
successful on Broadway, now writer Barton Fink (John Turturro) must deal with the pressure of the big Hollywood industry. Barton Fink ends up kind of freaking out in a hotel, after the pressure to write a movie script, right in the middle of a writer’s block. To make matters worse, he gets involved in bizarre situations, the wallpapers coming off, a mosquito that won’t let him sleep, an alcoholic writer and his helper-lover and, amazingly, a serial killer!

CURIOSITIES: (1) the ways that the montage uses to show Barton’s dive into this hotel-hell that can be his mind or a real place: holes and corridors to which the camera sneaks closer, after showing us a stupefied protagonist , and then accelerates, until a fade-out ends that Dantesque level more and brings us back to reality, darker and sicker;

                 (2) Admittedly following up on themes exposed by Roman Polanski in hallway and apartment films such as Repulse of Sex (1965) and The Tenant (1976) and bringing to the scenes thematic and imagery elements of The Godfather (1972), Eraserhead ( 1977) and The Shining (1980), the Coens made Barton Fink – Hollywood Delusions a bottomless pit of interpretations and allusions to a scenario so well known but at the same time so far away from us.

Barton Fink (br: Barton Fink – Hollywood Delusions) is a 1991 American film written, directed, produced and edited by brothers Joel and Ethan Coen.

Set in 1941, it stars John Turturro in the title role as a young New York playwright who is hired to write screenplays for a Hollywood movie studio, but who suffers a blockage preventing him from developing his ideas. John Goodman plays Charlie, the insurance salesman who lives next door to the Earle Hotel. Judy Davis, Michael Lerner, John Mahoney, Tony Shalhoub, Jon Polito and Steve Buscemi complete the cast. The Coen brothers wrote the script in three weeks, as they struggled while writing Miller’s Crossing. Shortly after finishing Miller’s Crossing, the Coen brothers began filming Barton Fink, which had its Cannes Film Festival premiere in May 1991. In a rare reach, Barton Fink won the Palme d’Or, as well as Best Director and Best Actor awards. (Turturro). Despite being almost universally celebrated by critics and nominated for three Oscars, the film grossed just over $6 million at the box office, two-thirds of its estimated budget. The writing process and the culture of entertainment production are two important themes for Barton Fink. The world of Hollywood is contrasted with that of Broadway, the film analyzes superficial distinctions between high and low culture. Other themes in the film include fascism and World War II, slavery and working conditions in the creative industries, and how intellectuals relate to “the common man”. Due to the diversity of elements, the film has defied genre classification efforts, being variously referred to as a film noir, a horror film, a Künstlerroman, and a buddy film.

The derelict, surreal atmosphere of the Hotel Earle was central to the story’s development, and careful deliberation went into its design. There’s a stark contrast between Fink’s quarters and the polished unspoilt surroundings of Hollywood, especially Jack Lipnick’s house. On the wall of Fink’s bedroom hangs a single image of a woman on the beach, which captures Barton’s attention, and the image reappears in the final scene of the film. Although the image and other elements of the film (including a mysterious box given by Charlie to Fink) appear loaded with symbolism, critics disagree about their possible meanings. The Coen brothers have acknowledged some intentional symbolic elements, but have denied an attempt to communicate any holistic message.

The film contains allusions to many real events and people, most notably writers Clifford Odets and William Faulkner. The characters of Barton Fink and W. P. Mayhew are widely seen as fictional representations of these men, but the Coen brothers point out important differences. They also admitted parodies of movie moguls like Louis B. Mayer, but note that Fink’s agonizing tribulations in Hollywood aren’t meant to reflect his own experiences.

Barton Fink was influenced by several earlier works, including Roman Polanski’s films, particularly Repulsion (1965) and The Tenant (1976). Other influences are from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining and Preston Sturges’ Sullivan’s Travels. The film contains a number of literary allusions to works by William Shakespeare, John Keats, and Flannery O’Connor. There are also religious implications, including references to the Book of Daniel, King Nebuchadnezzar II, and Bathsheba.