Barton Fink: The Coen Brothers’ 1991 masterpiece is coming to Blu-ray from Kino Lorber
Legend has it that while The Coen Brothers were in the process of writing their epic gangster drama Miller’s Crossing, they hit a wall of extreme writer’s block and, instead of just sloshing through it, they took a detour and penned Barton Fink, in essence a film about a writer with that dreaded block who figuratively goes to Hell in order to unlock himself. As is sometimes the case with art and life, the work we don’t over-plan, the things that just leak out of us organically, are often the most interesting and memorable. And with that, I’d say that Barton Fink is not only superior to the mammoth Miller’s Crossing, it’s one of the brothers’ best movies period. And the fact that its a full blown horror movie makes these statements all the sweeter.
Well, the 1991 film can’t traditionally be labeled a horror picture, but really, none of the Coen’s films fit easily into any definition of genre. But aesthetically, production designer Dennis Cassner’s sets are straight our of Suspiria, the film’s skid row claustrophobia straight out of Eraserhead (as is star John Turturro’s hair) and the psychological meltdown (mirrored by the gooey melting walls in the title character’s hotel room) is straight out The Tenant. Still, it’s hard to lock down exactly what the movie is save for the fact that it’s a Coen Brothers film, strange and beautiful and here pushed deep into the realms of the phantasmagorical and the surreal.
Barton Fink won the Palm D’Or at Cannes and nabbed Joel Coen and Turturro best director and actor brass, but flopped hard at the box office and has faded somewhat into obscurity. Which makes the sumptuous looking movie’s (this was the first feature shot by the great Roger Deakins) appearance on Blu-ray via Kino Lorber that much more vital. This is a film that demands multiple re-watches and much discussion.
The film stars Turturro as Fink, a hots**t playwright who is wooed to Hollywood in the 1940s to pen screenplays for film. Initially, the arrogant writer balks at the idea until he realizes the pay is more than okay. His first gig working for blowhard, Louis B. Mayor-esque mogul Jack Lipnick (Michael Lerner) is writing the script for rote wrestling feature, a subject that is about as far removed from Fink’s wheelhouse as can be imagined. He checks into a once opulent, now skeezy hotel (where a young Steve Buscemi is the desk man!) and sits at his typewriter ready to toss off what he thinks will be an easy payday when he indeed hits hardcore writer’s block. Suddenly hypersensitive to the temperature and the neighboring noise around him, Fink strikes a reluctant friendship up with a larger than life insurance salesmen next door (the amazing John Goodman) who not only indulges Fink’s rants, but schools him in wrestling. When he meets an alcoholic writer (John Mahoney, Moonstruck) and begins an affair with the writer’s put-upon wife (Judy Davis, Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch which shares much Burroughs-esque DNA with this film ) things begin rapidly unraveling, leading to murder, sex, sweat and psychosis.
Armed with a mesmerizing score by Carter Burwell (True Grit, Psycho III), Barton Fink is a minimalist master class in style that also serves as substance, a cinema-literate satire about Hollywood and the “process” and an intimate portrait of a truly unlikable man who must literally walk through flames in order to become a better person. Or something. Perhaps Barton Fink isn’t about anything save for its makers masturbating with sound and fury and that’s fine too. Either way, it stands alone.
Kino Lorber’s sexy Blu-ray looks and sounds amazing and comes stacked with extras, including a fine new interview with Turturro, an outrageous sit down with Lerner, a sober chat with producer Ben Barenholtz and a brilliant analysis of the score and sound design with Burwell and sound editor Skip Lievsay. Barton Fink is an unsettling, unforgettable motion picture and you’d do well to pick this release up.
Barton Fink is out on Blu-ray via Kino Lorber on August 22nd. Pre-order it here.