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2 reviews, 31 user ratings

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Barton Fink
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by Matt Mulcahey

"Journey through Hollywood's nightmare Coen Brothers style"
5 stars

Movies have a long and storied tradition of biting the hand that feeds them, lashing out at the callus, cold-bloodedness of Hollywood and the soul-selling “artists” who reside there. However, the Coen Brother’s Barton Fink may be the first to depict Hollywood both literally and metaphorically as hell, going as far as to compare the studio system to the Nazis.

Written during a bout of writer’s block while penning the gangster saga Miller’s Crossing, Barton Fink represents an artistic leap forward for The Coen Brothers. At the time the Coens were somewhat viewed as revisionist show-offs who made quirky, visually opulent but empty genre deconstructions (Blood Simple an homage to classic film noir, Raising Arizona a screwball comedy, Miller’s Crossing a revisiting of old-school gangsterism.) With Barton Fink The Coens put that notion to rest and solidified themselves as one of the most creative voices of film’s last quarter century, looking deeper than the beloved genres of their youth and prying into the dirty underlayers of the Hollywood that produced them.

Through the eyes of the Coens, 1940’s Hollywood is a dark, dreary place full of wolves in sheep’s clothing. The film’s protagonist is its namesake, a Mr. Barton Fink (played by the great John Turturro), a self-important, left wing intellectual whose first play has just opened to rave reviews in New York City.

The play is about what Turturro calls “the common man,” though Turturro has no real idea of what the common man thinks or feels. He insists he wants to tell the story of the common man, but when he runs into a prime example in the form of insurance salesman John Goodman he cuts him off with a self-aggrandizing speech every time Goodman begins to tell one of his tales.

Goodman is Turturro’s next door neighbor at the Hotel Earle, which will become Turturro’s purgatory before descending completely into Hollywood’s netherworld. Turturro has been summoned to the City of Angels to write for pictures, at a poultry salary. He doesn’t want to go, but his agent convinces him the money will finance his future plays. Plus, he assures Turturro, “The common man will still be here when you get back.”

Turturro goes to work for Capitol Pictures and studio head Michael Lerner (in a career defining performance), assigned to write a wrestling programmer for Wallace Beery. But Turturro can’t get past the opening shot. He looks for help in an overbearing producer (Tony Shalhoub) and a hard drinking novelist-turned-screenwriter (John Mahoney, playing a character modeled after William Faulkner), but only finds aid in the form of Goodman’s happy go lucky salesman.

Halfway through the film takes a sharp right turn into the surreal (imagine the final scene of John Schelsinger’s The Day of the Locust, but even stranger) , eschewing the sharp verbal humor of the first half and descending into a bizarre nightmare world that Turturro can’t escape. It’s a collection of long, haunting corridors and deathly silences, brought to vivid life through Carter Burwell’s score and Roger Deakins’ dazzling cinematographer.

Only a select group of filmmakers have a style so distinct that it’s instantly recognizable. You don’t need opening credits to know a Hitchcock or Scorsese film, and the same can be said of the Coens. By breaking from the themes of their past work and examining themselves in a personal film about artistic integrity, the Coen’s crafted what remains their most ambitious, thought provoking work with Barton Fink.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=1946&reviewer=255
originally posted: 06/19/02 03:38:05
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User Comments

9/16/12 charlie i now have a headache and feel intelectually inferior 1 stars
12/19/11 hillary pseudo intellectual stupid film. only Goodman saves it. 2 stars
12/07/10 Simon Amazingly layered work, artfully shot, more appreciated with every viewing. Coens=original 5 stars
8/27/09 brian You can check out any time you like...but you can never leave! 4 stars
9/17/08 Stu Extremely clever and often very funny, but does sag a little in the middle. 4 stars
8/02/07 fools♫gold Very painful (and painfully beautifully funny). Masterpieceful. 5 stars
6/09/06 Indrid Cold The Coens do David Lynch, and they do it quite well. 4 stars
3/29/06 matt The Coen's least accessible and still a masterpiece 5 stars
12/26/04 miller barton fink is the worst movie ive ever seen, hands down! 1 stars
8/02/03 Brian Entz I've seen it once so far and I know I will need to see it at least one more time. 5 stars
1/09/03 George Jung Nobody fucks with the Jesus! 5 stars
1/06/03 Bob Overrated 2 stars
10/16/02 turpin justin un imitable classic 5 stars
9/28/02 Peter Sherlock Fabulous 5 stars
3/27/02 vincent Surreal film for Coen fans. Pokes fun at Hollywood and writer's block. 3 stars
12/30/01 daniboy loved it. among the coens best 5 stars
10/14/01 Matt L. very, very "palpitable" movie. extremely visual and well done. 4 stars
8/12/01 Edwin Menguin Great atmospheric film, great performances, I eat stuff 5 stars
8/06/01 E-Funk This is there weirdest folks and quite possibly they're most genuine. 4 stars
6/21/01 Yogi No Comment, not my stile 2 stars
3/07/01 jordan one of the best movies ever. definitely the coen brothers' best. 5 stars
2/10/01 Basak Ongor This film takes you to the other worlds... 5 stars
1/13/01 sarah i didnt like your review, but i loved the movie. 5 stars
2/05/00 jim rice don't try and figure this film out. just enjoy sections of the film 5 stars
2/02/00 Hans delbruk Easily one of the best films of the 90's 5 stars
11/27/99 Joe Price My group was a little puzzled by some symbols but enjoyed watching. 4 stars
11/08/99 Max Kline The Best of the Coen's work. An absolutely brilliant work about writer's block!! 5 stars
8/19/99 Chris Bush There's too much here to get it all in one viewing- you have to see it more than once. 5 stars
6/30/99 hum very visual 4 stars
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  02-Jul-1991 (R)


  02-Feb-1992 (M)

Directed by
  Joel Coen

Written by
  Joel Coen
  Ethan Coen

  John Turturro
  John Goodman
  Judy Davis
  Michael Lerner
  John Mahoney
  Tony Shalhoub
  Steve Buscemi

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