EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?
|BARTON FINK (director/writer: Joel Coen; screenwriter: Ethan Coen; cinematographer: Roger Deakins; editor: Ethan Coen; music: Carter Burwell; cast: John Turturro (Barton Fink), John Goodman (Charlie Meadows), Judy Davis (Audrey), Michael Lerner (Jack Lipnick), John Mahoney (W.P. Bill Mayhew), Tony Shalhoub (Ben Geisler), Jon Polito (Lou Breeze), Steve Buscemi (Chet), David Warrilow (Garland Stanford), Richard Portnow (Detective Mastrionotti), Christopher Murney (Detective Deutsch); Runtime: 114; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Ethan Coen; 20th Century Fox; 1991)|
|"Goes off the deep end."
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A creepy satire and real head-scratcher. To say that the Coen brothers ("Fargo"/"Raising Arizona"/"Blood Simple") bizarre parody of Hollywood goes off the deep end, is putting it mildly. It shifts at the half-way mark from a very funny insider Hollywood satire into a dark and disturbing psychodrama, a sudden transition that just didn't work. But the folks at Cannes fell in love with it, as it unprecedentedly won Best Picture, Director and Actor (John Turturro).
In 1941 NYC playwright Barton Fink (John Turturro) gets rave reviews for his play about an
ordinary fish-monger and is lured to Hollywood with the
promise of fame, fortune and a chance to reach the masses with his
honest efforts to portray regular folks. Barton's signed to be a writer
for Capital Picture's boorish vulgarian head Jack Lipnick (Michael
Lerner), who assigns him to write a screenplay for a wrestling movie for Wallace Beery. While
in LA, the studio puts Barton up in the seedy Earle Hotel, where his
neighbor and soon to be best friend is a folksy overfriendly
hard-drinking regular working-class guy--an insurance salesman named Charlie
Meadows (John Goodman).
from writer's block, Barton recruits the Southern
literary giant W.P. Bill Mayhew (John Mahoney) for
assistance. His fellow studio contract writer is a
disappointment, as he's a drunk and offers no help. But help arrives
from Bill's live-in girlfriend and secretary Audrey (Judy Davis), who claims
to have ghost-written all of Bill's scripts and seems quite capable of
also handling her difficult writer (though she can't stop him from
being an alcoholic) and the awkward Barton's sexual advances.
come the weird narrative twists, plunging Barton into a
surreal nightmare that Francis Bacon could dig, and it results in an
ambiguous ending that's open to all sorts of interpretations about why
the brothers were so mean to Barton and what the hell were they
actually trying to say about such things as Hollywood, writers and life.
Turturro's character is based
on well-meaning leftist intellectual Broadway playwright Clifford
Odets, who was later blacklisted. Lerner's
character is a combination of Jewish studio moguls Louis B. Mayer and
Harry Cohn. While Mahoney's character is a dead ringer for
writer William Faulkner, who did spend some time in Hollywood.
acting is superb, the directing is assured and the film's look is
pleasingly stylish. It works well on numerous levels, but the
relentless skewering of Odets was a hatchet job and left the brothers
open to criticism for being so smug. It allows us to think that the
brothers think of themselves as acclaimed playwright Odets' superiors
and that they know the 'common man' better and what he wants to see
than those darn intellectuals, who led sheltered lives like Barton
REVIEWED ON 4/4/2011 GRADE: B
Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"
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