"Six, please."--Barton "Next stop, six....This stop, six."--Elevator operator (There is no other dialogue in the elevator scene in order to illuminate the three sixes
- the mark of the devil.)
"The common man will still be here when you get back."
- Garland Stanford (David Warrilow) to Barton, trying to convince the writer to accept the Hollywood deal
"We're only interested in one thing: Can you tell a story, Bart' Can you make us laugh' Can you make us cry' Can you make us want to break out in joyous song' Is that more than one thing' OK!"
- Jack Lipnick (Michael Lerner) to Barton
"I could tell you stories to curl your hair but it looks like you've already heard them."
- Insurance salesman Charlie Meadows (John Goodman) to Barton, who isn't really listening to Charlie anyway; Charlie, meanwhile, insists that all he offers people is a little peace (piece') of mind
"Can't trade my head in for a new one."--Charlie "I guess you're stuck with the one you got."--Barton "We gotta keep our heads."
- Charlie to Barton
"Escape--it's when I can't write and escape myself and wanna rip my head off and run screaming through the streets."
- W.P. Mayhew (John Mahoney) to Barton Fink
"Where there's a head there's hope."
- Charlie to Barton
"Right now the contents of your head are the property of Capitol Pictures."
- Lou Breeze (Jon Polito) to Barton
"Look upon me! Look upon me! I'll show you the life of the mind!"
Cannes 1991 -
Best Actor: John Turturro
Cannes 1991 -
Best Director: Joel Coen
Cannes 1991 -
Rolling Stone - 08/22/1991
"...Partly hilarious, partly horrific, totally mesmerizing..."
Sight and Sound - 02/01/1992
"...The Coens share with Lynch an ability to find brilliant aural and tactile devices to suggest a world gone awry..."
USA Today - 08/21/1991
"...Surreal and sometimes sublime..."
Los Angeles Times - 08/21/1991
"...[The Coens] are filmmakers of considerable ability. Their scripts are invariably clever and bemused, with a wised-up quality all their own..."
Total Film - 08/01/2012 5 stars out of 5 -- "[A]s a dark-hearted love letter to golden-age Hollywood it's hard to beat....One of the brother's bleakest masterpieces."
BARTON FINK is the Coen brothers' apocalyptic masterpiece about the creative process. John Turturro stars as the title character, an idealistic young man with an ERASERHEAD-like do who believes that writing should be about the living truth, revealing the hopes, the dreams, the tragedies of the common man. When Hollywood comes calling for him to write a wrestling picture for Wallace Beery, Fink suddenly finds himself in Los Angeles with a severe case of writer's block, unable to combine his deep-seated ethics with Hollywood's desire to just make a buck. Fast-talking mogul Jack Lipnick (a terrific Michael Lerner) sets Barton up at the Hotel Earle, where the writer meets up with Charlie Meadows (John Goodman), a traveling insurance salesman who is ready to fill Barton's head with tales of the common man--but Fink is too busy espousing his defense of the common man to actually listen to him. So Barton seeks to find the answers in W.P. Mayhew (John Mahoney), a Faulkneresque novelist who has sacrificed his morals for the B-pictures and the bottle. When the disillusioned Fink finds himself part of a murder investigation, all hell breaks loose. Joel and Ethan Coen's BARTON FINK is a multilayered, complex psychological study of the creative mind that is as frightening and bizarre as it is hysterically funny.
BARTON FINK is steeped in homage, to everything from Stanley Kubrick's THE SHINING to Roman Polanski's THE TENANT, in which inanimate objects (hotels, apartments) represent the decaying mind of the protagonist. Like Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) at the haunted Overlook Hotel, Barton is at the Hotel Earle to write but is having problems. The wallpaper keeps falling down, oozing out a sticky substance (brain matter') as weird noises and whispers appear to come from nowhere and everywhere. Director of photography Roger Deakins takes long shots of the narrow hallway, filled with shoes to be shined, that echo Kubrick's long shots of the Overlook hallways. With the many references to the mind and the head, the screenplay imagines Barton's hotel room as the inner workings of his decaying mind, as Roman Polanski did with the apartment in THE TENANT. And the hotel itself might just be hell; when Barton first enters the seemingly vacant, rotting hotel and rings the bell, Chet (Coen regular Steve Buscemi) comes up from a trap door in the floor as if he has emerged from the bowels of the underworld. The wrestling picture that is screened for Barton to give him ideas is called DEVIL ON THE CANVAS. Next-door neighbor Charlie Meadows (John Goodman) sweats more and more as the film continues, getting hotter and hotter, and is always throwing around the words "damn," "hell," and "Jesus." Finally, the painting on the wall over the typewriter that Barton stares into longingly shows a woman on a beautiful beach, where the soothing waves seem to be audible; it is as if that picture represents the heavenly world outside while Barton is trapped in the hell inside. The Coen brothers wrote BARTON FINK in about three weeks while unable to complete the screenplay for MILLER'S CROSSING; it seems that their severe case of writer's block put them through their own personal hell, ending in a fiery finale of creativity run amok.
BARTON FINK premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on May 20, 1991.
Estimated budget: $10 million.
The film won an unprecedented three awards at the 1991 Cannes Film Festival--the Palme D'Or, Best Director (Joel and Ethan Coen), and Best Actor (John Turturro); the jury was headed by Roman Polanski, whose THE TENANT and REPULSION are echoed in BARTON FINK. Ethan Coen said, "If you had to describe [BARTON FINK] generically, you couldn't do better--not that this is a genre--but it's kind of a Polanski movie. It's closer to that than anything else." Brother Joel added, "It's true. And THE TENANT is a movie that we're both familiar with and like....There are definitely influences [in BARTON FINK] from Polanski, I'm sure."
Michael Lerner was named Best Supporting Actor by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association.
Judy Davis was named Best Actress of the Year by the London Film Critics Circle for her performances in BARTON FINK, NAKED LUNCH, and HUSBANDS AND WIVES. She was also designated Best Supporting Actress of 1991 by the New York Film Critics Circle for her work in BARTON FINK and NAKED LUNCH.
The film's director of photography, Roger Deakins, was cited for Best Cinematography of 1991 by the National Society of Film Critics, the New York Film Critics Circle, and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association for his work on BARTON FINK and HOMICIDE.
The ominous motto of the Hotel Earle is A Day or a Lifetime.
In MILLER'S CROSSING, stars Gabriel Byrne and John Turturro meet at the Barton Arms.
Tony Shalhoub, who plays Ben Geisler, is listed as Tony Shaloub in the opening credits.
"Barton is based on Clifford Odets," Joel said, "from the point of view of his background, but it's not really supposed to be....Odets had a much more successful career in Hollywood than Barton."
The name of Barton's play at the beginning of the film is BARE RUINED CHOIRS.
The name of Bill Mayhew's latest book is NEBUCHADNEZZAR; the name of the picture he is trying to write is SLAVE SHIP.
The Wallace Beery wrestling picture the Coens dreamed up for Barton to write was a random choice. "We thought it was like a joke," Ethan said. But it turned out that Wallace Beery did indeed play a wrestler in John Ford's 1932 film FLESH. "We were sort of disappointed that there actually was such a thing," Ethan continued. "It makes it a little more pedestrian that it really exists."
Summing up the picture, Ethan Coen called it a "buddy movie."