Barton Fink

Barton Fink

Infobox Film
name = Barton Fink

caption = The theatrical poster.
director = Joel Coen
Ethan Coen (uncredited)
producer = Ethan Coen
Joel Coen (uncredited)
writer = Joel Coen
Ethan Coen
narrator =
starring = John Turturro
John Goodman
Michael Lerner
Steve Buscemi
Judy Davis John Mahoney Tony Shaloub Jon Polito
music = Carter Burwell
cinematography = Roger Deakins
editing = Roderick Jaynes
distributor = 20th Century Fox
released = flagicon|France May 1991 (Cannes premiere)
flagicon|United States 21 August, 1991 (limited)
flagicon|Australia 23 January, 1992
runtime = 116 min.
country = US
language = English
budget = $9,000,000 (estimated)
preceded_by =
followed_by =
website =
amg_id = 1:4016
imdb_id = 0101410

"Barton Fink" is a 1991 film by Joel and Ethan Coen. It tells the story of Barton Fink (John Turturro), a young, intense, and rather awkward writer of social realist plays in the early 1940s whose "raison d'être" is to "create a theatre of the common man," but who is suffering from writer's block and has no ability to relate to "the common man."

The film's enigmatic story has been interpreted as an examination of the creative act, a satire on Hollywood, a Joseph Campbell-like heroic quest, or even an allegory for the rise of Nazism. [Ebert, Roger. Review: Barton Fink. Chicago Sun Times, August 23, 1991.] The Coen brothers themselves remain characteristically tight-lipped on the subject.

"Barton Fink" won the Palme d'Or at Cannes by a unanimous vote, as well as the awards for Best Director and Best Actor. It was the only film in the history of that festival to sweep those three honors. Michael Lerner's portrayal of the egotistic film producer Jack Lipnick was hailed by critics and earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. It was also nominated for Academy Awards for Best Art Direction/Set Decoration and Best Costume Design the same year.


Barton Fink is a playwright and screenwriter loosely based on the 1930s playwright Clifford Odets. [ [ :: :: Reviews :: Barton Fink (xhtml) ] ] After the success of his Broadway debut, "Bare Ruined Choirs", Fink relocates from his native New York to Los Angeles to work as a contracted writer for Hollywood studio chief Jack Lipnick (Michael Lerner) of Capitol Pictures, whose character is based on MGM's Louis B. Mayer. Fink settles in at the decrepit Hotel Earle and sets about trying to start on the script for a Wallace Beery B-movie about professional wrestling. However, he feels claustrophobic and develops writer's block. His jovial neighbor Charlie Meadows (John Goodman), who describes himself as a door-to-door insurance agent, often drops in to chat during the evenings. Though Barton claims to be fascinated with "the common man," he initially perceives Charlie as an irritating intruder. They later become friends and confidants, however, and Barton gives Charlie his parents' New York City address.

As Barton strives to overcome his writer's block, he repeatedly gazes at a picture hanging on the hotel room wall of a young woman in a bathing suit on the beach. His producer, Ben Geisler (Tony Shalhoub) suggests he ask another screenwriter for advice, and Barton runs into W.P. "Bill" Mayhew (John Mahoney), a critically acclaimed novelist who is now writing for the movies. Barton becomes disillusioned when he learns that Mayhew is an alcoholic and abuses his mistress Audrey (Judy Davis), who was the ghostwriter for several of his novels.

Late one night, Barton calls Audrey for help with the screenplay; she visits him at his apartment and the two have sex. When Barton wakes up the next morning, he discovers Audrey lying dead in a pool of blood next to him. Charlie offers to help Barton out, telling him not to call the police and cause a scandal, and cleaning up the crime scene. Charlie then has to leave town for a few days to visit, and gives Barton a package to look after in the meantime.

After Charlie has left, police detectives interview Barton about his relationship with Charlie, who turns out to be a serial killer, Karl "Madman" Mundt, who decapitates his victims. They have found Audrey's body nearby, but her head is missing.

Barton's writer's block finally lifts, and he quickly writes the screenplay for the wrestling movie. The detectives come to the hotel again to say that Mayhew has also been decapitated and Barton is a suspect. They handcuff Barton to his bed frame, then try to apprehend Charlie, who has just returned. The corridor erupts in flame, and Charlie shoots and kills both detectives (saying "Heil Hitler" before killing one). He returns to Barton and explains his motivation for his crimes, saying he involved Barton in the crimes because "you don't listen!" Charlie then frees the writer, and enters his own room as the hotel burns around him. Barton leaves the hotel, taking the mysterious package and his script.

Barton is unable to contact his parents in New York, and during a meeting, Lipnick complains that Barton's script is too sensitive and introspective. Moreover, he accuses Barton of having no unique talents as a writer, a most damning indictment. Lipnick vows to keep Barton under contract in a form of involuntary servitude until he "grows up."

In the last scene, Barton wanders to the beach, carrying Charlie's package. He briefly converses with a young woman in a bathing suit. As she turns to look at the ocean, she strikes the same pose as the picture of the girl in his hotel room. The waves crash, and a diving bird flies head-first into the ocean (although some have interpreted this as being the bird unceremoniously dropping dead). The credits roll.


*John Turturro as Barton Fink
*John Goodman as Charlie Meadows
*Judy Davis as Audrey Taylor
*Michael Lerner as Jack Lipnick
*John Mahoney as W.P. "Bill" Mayhew
*Tony Shalhoub as Ben Geisler
*Jon Polito as Lou Breeze
*Steve Buscemi as Chet
*David Warrilow as Garland Stanford
*Richard Portnow as Detective Mastrionotti
*Christopher Murney as Detective Deutsch
*Harry Bugin as Pete


The Coens claim the film was inspired by an attack of writer's block they suffered whilst working on the screenplay for "Miller's Crossing" [cite book
last = Bergan
first = Ronald
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = The Coen Brothers
publisher = Thunder's Mouth Press
date = August 2000
location =
pages =p 116
url =
doi =
id =
isbn =1560252545

The Coens were inspired by Otto Friedrich's "City of Nets: A Portrait of Hollywood", a book about the history of moviemaking in the '30s and '40s with an emphasis on the many German expatriates in Los Angeles and the Jim Thompson novel "A Hell of a Woman", which inspired the theme of the hotel as ghost ship.cite web|url=,212,BA.html|title=A Life in Pictures:The Coen Brothers||accessdaymonth=12 February|accessyear=2008] Barton was based on Clifford Odets, a Jewish-American author of leftist plays like "Waiting for Lefty" and "Awake and Sing!" who went to Hollywood to write screenplays.

W.P. Mayhew is a composite character of 'Lost Generation' novelists William Faulkner and F. Scott Fitzgerald, both of whom went to Hollywood to write for the movies, largely out of financial necessity (Fitzgerald, like Mayhew, needed to provide for his disturbed wife's care in mental institutions), only to struggle with a decline in their careers and descent into alcoholism. Faulkner even worked, uncredited, on a Wallace Beery wrestling picture called "Flesh". [cite book
last = Hamilton
first = Ian
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = Writers In Hollywood: 1915-1951
publisher = Harper and Row
date = 1990
location =
pages =
url =
doi =
id =
isbn =

Fink's bushy haircut resembles that of Henry Spencer from David Lynch's "Eraserhead" (1977). There are also a number of other elements similar to "Eraserhead", such as the style of the hotel, and the loud ambient noise.


Infobox Album
Name = Fargo/Barton Fink: Music by Carter Burwell
Type = Soundtrack
Artist = Carter Burwell

Released = May 28, 1996
Recorded =
Genre = Film score
Length = 43:15
Label = TVT
Producer =
Reviews = * Allmusic Rating|4.5|5 [ link]
* [ Movie Music UK] Rating|2|5
Chronology = Coen Brothers film soundtracks
Last album = "Miller's Crossing
This album = "Barton Fink" (1991)
Next album = "The Hudsucker Proxy"
As with all the Coen Brothers' films, the score is composed by Carter Burwell. The contemporary classical score is experimental in nature, featuring detuned pianos, typewriters and the sound of running water.

Songs in the film include "For Sentimental Reasons", "Old Black Joe" (sung by John Mahoney's drunken character) and "Down South Camp Meeting". None are featured on a soundtrack album that was released in 1996 by TVT Records, combined with selections from Burwell's score to "Fargo". [ [ SoundtrackCollector: Soundtrack details: Fargo ] ]

Track listing

All selections composed by Carter Burwell.
#"Fade In" – 1:08
#"Big Shoes" – 1:33
#"Love Theme from "Barton Fink" – 1:21
#"Barton In Shock" – 1:58
#"Typing Montage" – 2:11
#"The Box" – 3:06
#"Barton In Flames" – 0:57
#"Fade Out - The End" – 3:37
#*Selections from "Barton Fink" comprise the final eight tracks on the 24-track CD issued in 1996 by TVT Records; the first 16 tracks are from the "Fargo" soundtrack.


External links

*imdb title|id=0101410|title=Barton Fink
*amg movie|id=1:4016|title=Barton Fink
*rotten-tomatoes|id=barton_fink|title=Barton Fink
* " [ Barton Fink] " at the Movie Review Query Engine
* [ Coenesque: The Films of the Coen Brothers]
* [ You Know, For Kids! Barton Fink page]
* [ Film review with pictures]
* [ A detailed study of the movie]
* [ A flash animation study of the film]
###@@@KEY@@@###succession box
title=Palme d'Or
before="Wild at Heart"
after="The Best Intentions"


* It is possible that Charlie's (John Goodman) line "Look upon me! I'll show you the life of the mind!" in one of Fink's nightmares is a reference to a quote from friend and confidant of Muhammad and first Muslim ruler Abu Bakr ("Knowledge is the life of the mind.")

The title of Barton's play, Bare Ruined Choirs, comes from a line in Shakespeare's Sonnet 73.

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