"Barton Fink" Is Released

Barton Fink is a 1991 American film written and directed by the Coen brothers.

Set in 1941, it stars John Turturro in the title role as a young New York City playwright who is hired to write scripts for a movie studio in Hollywood, and John Goodman as Charlie, the insurance salesman who lives next door at the run-down Hotel Earle. The Coens wrote the screenplay in three weeks while experiencing difficulty during the writing of another movie, Miller's Crossing. Soon after Miller's Crossing was finished, the Coens began filming Barton Fink, and it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May 1991. In a rare sweep, it won the Palme d'Or prize, as well as awards for Best Director and Best Actor (Turturro). Although it was celebrated almost universally by critics, the movie only grossed $6,000,000 at the box office – two-thirds of its estimated budget.

The title character, played by John Turturro, is a Broadway playwright, based on Clifford Odets, lured to Hollywood with the promise of untold riches by a boorish studio chieftain (played by Michael Lerner as a combination of Louis B. Mayer and Harry Cohn). Despising the film capital and everything it stands for, Barton Fink comes down with an acute case of writer's block. He is looked after by a secretary (Judy Davis) who has been acting as a ghost writer for an alcoholic screenwriter (John Mahoney, playing a character based on William Faulkner). Also keeping tabs on Fink is a garrulous traveling salesman (John Goodman), the most likeable, stable character in the picture. And then comes the plot twist to end all plot twists, plunging Barton Fink into a surreal nightmare that would make Hieronymus Bosch look like a house painter. Once more, Ethan and Joel Coen serve up a smorgasbord of quirkiness and kinkiness, where nothing is what it seems and nothing turns out as planned. ~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide