Barton Fink (1991)

Joel and Ethan Coen's "Barton Fink" in the first sweep ever at the Cannes film festival, it was awarded the prizes for best film, best direction and best performance by an actor. 

"Barton Fink" might possibly be classified as a satire on the life of the mind. There is no doubt that it is about the perils of the mind for someone as impressionable as Barton Fink (John Turturro). Barton is a pious, prissy New York playwright of very funny, unredeemed humorlessness, someone who has dedicated himself to creating "a living theater of, about and for the Common Man."

The time is the early 1940's, just before World War II, when Clifford Odets and a number of other American playwrights were still riding high on a wave of poetic proletarianism.After having written one Broadway hit, Barton, who resembles the hero of David Lynch's "Eraserhead," goes to Hollywood to earn some big money and maybe, as he says, "to make a difference."

Barton's responsibilities to the Common Man weigh heavily on his skinny frame. He stays not at one of Los Angeles's fancier hotels but at the Earle, a downtown establishment ("For a Day or a Lifetime") whose Art Deco lobby and corridors give no hint of the Skid Row seediness of the rooms.

Barton's adventures in Hollywood are a series of grotesquely funny confrontations as his writer's block becomes manifest and his panic accumulates. His first assignment for Capitol Pictures is a wrestling movie "for Wally Beery."

"It's not a B picture; Capitol Pictures does not make B pictures," says Jack Lipnick (Michael Lerner), Capitol's squat, barrel-chested president, who seems to be a cross between Harry Cohn of Columbia and Louis B. Mayer of M-G-M. It is, of course, a B picture, and Barton hasn't a clue as to how to start. His desperation mounts.

More important to Barton than anyone else is Charlie Meadows (John Goodman), his next-door neighbor at the Earle. He's a big, gregarious insurance man who tells Barton, man-to-man, "You might say that I sell peace of mind."

The shirt-sleeved Charlie is actually too good to be true, but Barton doesn't notice. All he sees is the beer-belly, the sweat, the suspenders, the desperation to please. He's someone in whom Barton can confide."I write about people like yourself, Charlie," Barton announces to his new friend. "The simple working stiff." 

It was said by some at Cannes that "Barton Fink" is a movie for people who don't like the Coen brothers' films. Not quite true. It's a film for those who were not sure that the Coens knew what they wanted to do or had the authority to pull off a significant work."Barton Fink" eliminates those doubts. It's an exhilarating original. 

    1. Release date: August 21, 1991 (USA)
      Directors: Ethan CoenJoel Coen
      Produced by: Ethan Coen
      Music by: Carter Burwell

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