Combustible Celluloid
Stream it:
Download at i-tunes iTunes
Own it:
Get the Poster
Search for streaming:
NetflixHuluGoogle PlayGooglePlayCan I
With: John Turturro, John Goodman, Judy Davis, Michael Lerner, John Mahoney, Tony Shalhoub, Jon Polito, Steve Buscemi
Written by: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Directed by: Joel Coen
MPAA Rating: R for language and some scenes of violence
Running Time: 116
Date: 05/01/1991

Barton Fink (1991)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Common Men

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Thanks to a friend that worked at a movie theater, I saw Barton Fink (1991) at midnight, before it opened to the public, and it was a perfect way to experience this weird, funny, would-be cult film, filled with its strange spaces and surreal dream logic.

John Turturro stars in the title role, an acclaimed playwright hired to come to Hollywood and write a wrestling picture for Wallace Beery. (He's reportedly modeled after Clifford Odets.) He's put up at a creepy hotel, with a strange desk clerk, Chet (Steve Buscemi), and a boisterous neighbor, insurance salesman Charlie Meadows (John Goodman). Barton tries to write, but suffers writer's block. Strange things begin to happen to distract him, notwithstanding his obsession with representing the "common man."

The movie leaves a great deal of things to the imagination, such as an enigmatic picture hanging on the wall of Barton's room, though clearly fans have had a ball trying to come up with interpretations. The Coen brothers reportedly wrote it quickly when they, themselves, suffered writer's block during the creation of Miller's Crossing. (To me, that's the best kind of art, the kind that just forces itself into being when you're not even thinking about it.)

The film won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, and actor Michael Lerner earned an Oscar nomination as an outspoken Hollywood magnate, though it's unclear why John Goodman was not considered. The wonderful Judy Davis was in both this and another surreal movie about a writer that same year, David Cronenberg's Naked Lunch. (That's a great double feature.) Roger Deakins provided the great cinematography, his first film for the Coens.

All in all, this was my favorite Coen movie until Fargo came out two years later. In 2017, Kino Lorber released a long-awaited Blu-ray edition, which, to my eyes, looks and sounds pretty solid. It includes interviews with star Turturro, supporter Lerner, executive producer Ben Barenholtz, and composer Carter Burwell with supervising sound editor Skip Lievsay. There are also deleted scenes, a trailer, and optional English subtitles.

Movies Unlimtied