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DVD Review

DVD cover

Barton Fink (1991)
(2016 Reissue)


Starring: John Turturro and John Goodman
Distributor: Fabulous Films Ltd / Fremantle Media Enterprises
RRP: £14.99
Certificate: 15
Release Date: 14 March 2016

What do you do if you’re writing a screenplay and get writers block? Well, if you’re the Coen Brothers you write a movie about that instead.

Barton Fink (1991. 1 hr, 52 min, 11 sec) is a comedy drama, written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. The film won thirteen awards and was nominated for a further twelve.

In many ways, like a lot of the Coen’s films, it’s is too easy to call the movie a comedy/drama. Depending how you look at it the film is a buddy movie, a film noir and a murder mystery. More than this the film is imbued with the Coen’s particular sense of the weird.

The film tells the story of Barton Fink (John Turturro), a naïve left-wing writer who scores a minor hit on Broadway, but not so minor that Hollywood does not come calling. Whisked to the east coast he is put under contract to write a wrestling movie. This is only the start of his problems. Unwilling to be swallowed by Hollywood, Barton takes up residence in a rundown hotel whose only other guests appear to be an amorous couple he never sees but often hears and Charlie Meadows (John Goodman).

Barton is obsessed by what he sees as his art and cannot understand his friend and fellow writer, W.P. Mayhew (John Mahoney) who sees writing not as art but a form of escape from his own life. Barton remains unconvinced, feeling that real writing comes from pain, a position he will live to regret.

The film, as is usual for a Coen production, is resplendent with imagery. In Barton’s room he has a picture of a girl on the beach; the film returns to this image a number of times and even ends with a re-enactment on an actual beach. As the Coen’s rarely discuss such matters much of the film's symbolism is up for personal interpretation.

The film explores a number of themes, including how the intelligentsia view the ‘common man’, how little distance there is between high and low art and the frustrations of writers block.

Oddly enough, although well-liked by critics and the winner of numerous awards, the film was a financial disappointment, although I would imagine that it has made its production costs by now.

The DVD contains eight deleted scenes and a still gallery.

If you haven’t already got it in your Coen collection then it’s about time you picked a copy up. Barton Fink is both thought provoking and entertaining in equal measure with the two leads giving award winning performances.


Charles Packer

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