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You can't check out once your money is from Hollywood

  • Oct 4, 2010

I'm not lying to you.  I don't know how to start this review.  I do know that I'm not going to write about fish markets.  Here goes.

Barton Fink I saw many years ago when I first saw Fargo, my first and still favorite Coen Brothers movie.  I was much younger and really didn't understand what this movie Barton Fink was about.  This has to be one of those movies where the symbolism of the movie is what makes the movie.  The more you follow the subtext, the better it is.

Barton Fink is a New York playright who understands the common man-so he says.  His first play is a smash and offers from Hollywood are coming in.  Barton would rather not but a friend pressures him into going.  Checking in at the decrepit Hotel Earle, Barton is seemingly the only resident.  Is he?  Well with the complementery shoe shine that the Earle offers, we see there are other people's shoes but no other people.  Barton's room has just what he needs, a bathroom, a kitchen and a bed and nothing more and his wallpaper peels away with thick goopy glue left behind.  Why is it so hot?  Barton doesn't sweat in his room but it is hot.  Charlie Meadows is his one neighbor, a door to door insurance salesman who sells peace of mind, allegedly.  Charlie comments on how if it isn't his personality it's his build that turns people away from him.  Charlie is full of advice for Barton and if only Barton could get off his high horse for a second and stop thinking he knows everything, he might learn something.

Heading over to Capitol Pictures, Barton meets Jack Lipnick the studio head who has a former head as an assistant.  Barton the playwright, who has written about the common man and his struggles...is asked to write a wrestling movie.  Barton can surely do this cause he is talented to write an acclaimed work....but he has writers block.  Barton is smart enough to realize early on he isn't just a one hit wonder but a good writer would be able to write this movie script.  Did Barton believe the hype?

The movie's producer says it's a B Movie and it should be easy, but Jack Lipnick says Capitol pictures doesn't make low budget garbage....okay.  It's how the system works seemingly.  Who to listen to.  Down the same lines, Barton meets his favorite author who turns out to be a steaming drunk who's sexy secretary has been doing the work lately since the author is so bombed all the time.  Everyday has Barton returning to the Hotel to stare at his blank page.  Barton's attempts at reaching out to people end up either confusing Barton either more about the subject he doesn't understand or end up having bad consequences.

Without giving too much away, here are some details on how the movie shapes up by the end.  Barton has sold out to Hollywood but no one knows him, his connections back home are cut, he has no friends or lovers and his talent will go to waste.  He cannot go home and the Earle is now his home.  You really need to follow the symbolism and I tried alluding to some of it here but it must be a surprise for the full enjoyment while you watch.  Putting things in places as to what things represent and Charlie is a big part of it.  Just when I thought I had this movie all put together, I read more about it and other people and they're ideas of the movie's symbolism makes this movie more like a Steely Dan album.  Wondering what the words mean, who a character represents, is the deeper meaning in the characters and who they're modeled after in real life.

This is a very good movie that needs a second watch to catch all of the symbolism of the movie, especially on the second watch now that you know how it all goes and you can focus on the subtle.  Needing a second watch to enrich the movie more isn't all that bad, and I can see how everyone's opinions and views of the movie can differ.  One thing is sure, the movie's symbolism is stronger then the actual movie it's framed around.

You can't check out once your money is from Hollywood You can't check out once your money is from Hollywood

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October 21, 2010
Loved this one as well [I know saying that about all these Coen films is getting old, but it is true] Although I agree with you "Fargo" is still my fav as well.
October 21, 2010
I like a lot of they're movies and after seeing this again I really liked it, when for the longest time I didn't. I just needed to grow up and understand it. This was the hardest review to write to tell the story, keep it interesting and NOT give away all the symbolism that I saw.
October 05, 2010
Good reminder about Cohn Brothers. They reward rewatching. Now I gotta dig out my copy of "Blood Simple."
October 06, 2010
You should watch Blood Simple right now. It's great.
October 04, 2010
wow...your review is just enthralling. I need to see this asap. I have no idea why I haven't even heard of this flick until now. Thanks, John, I featured this one!
October 04, 2010
I just watched this movie again after 13 years and you have no idea how hard it was to make it sound interesting without giving away the details. The devil is in the details. I put this movie on my hyped movies that left me somewhat dissapointed list and from my own experience I'm not moving it but I definitely like this movie more now.
More Barton Fink reviews
review by . February 03, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
So in my path through the Coen Brother's career in sequence, I come to Barton Fink.     Blood Simple was a great noir debut about misunderstanding identity.   Raising Arizona was a screwball comedy about stealing an identity.  Miller's Crossing was a deep gangster movie about discovering identity ("Nobody knows anybody. Not that well")    Barton Fink is about understanding your own identity. Barton Fink (John Turturro) is a New Yorker of …
Quick Tip by . October 05, 2010
The Coen Brother's super subtextual and symbolic tale of Hollywwod is ready to make all the floating plastic bags dancing in the wind cry in shame and to give the watcher plenty to mull over after watching.
Quick Tip by . July 27, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
One of the Coesn brothers best. A wonderful film about screenwriting set in the 1940s.
Quick Tip by . November 04, 2009
Odd and offbeat even for the Coens has a playwritter wishing to sell out to Hollywood. Love or hate Coen movie but long in the tooth.
About the reviewer
John Nelson ()
Ranked #8
Born in Wausau Wisconsin. Move at an early age to Ventura California and lived for 8 years. Growing up in a big city landscape didn't prepare me for my next move: Archbold Ohio with a population of … more
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About this movie


A darkly comic ride, this intense and original 1991 offering from the Coen brothers (Fargo,Blood Simple) gleefully attacks the Hollywood system and those who seek to sell out to it, portraying the writer's suffering as a loony vision of hell. John Turturro (Miller's Crossing,Jungle Fever) plays the title character, a pretentious left-wing writer from New York City who is brought to 1930s Hollywood to write a script for a wrestling movie for palooka actor Wallace Beery. Fink thinks the job is beneath him, but his desire for acceptance gets the better of him, and he suddenly finds himself holed up in a fleabag hotel in Los Angeles, where he is almost immediately afflicted with writer's block. Various distractions begin to enter his life, first in the form of a famous southern writer (John Mahoney) whom Fink idolizes, and then his neighbor in the hotel, a seemingly amiable salesman played by John Goodman (Sea of Love,Raising Arizona). The writer turns out to be a self-loathing drunk whose secretary (Judy Davis) is the one actually doing the writing. And the neighbor, the working-class hero who Fink made his reputation writing about, may have a horrifying secret of his own. Equal parts social commentary and hilarious farce, and winner of the Best Picture, Actor, and Director prizes at the Cannes Film Festival,Barton Finkis a visionary and original comic masterpiece not to be missed.--Robert Lane
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