Coenpalooza! Barton Fink

(USA, 1991, 116 mins, 35mm)
CAST John Turturro, John Goodman, Judy Davis, Michael Lerner, John Mahoney


“I gotta tell you, the life of the mind… There’s no roadmap for that territory… And exploring it can be painful.” John Turturro gives what may be the definitive portrait of a blocked - but still unbearably pompous - writer in this insider satire on Hollywood culture. The Coens, of course, were indie darlings getting their first glimpse of La-la-land when they decided to riff on the myriad American literary lions who sold out to the movie studios in the 1930s and 40s: Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Hammett and Hemingway, to name but a few. Playwright Clifford Odets would be another example, and probably the closest model for Barton Fink, a New York dramatist feted for his poetic paeans to the common man, despite his middle class origins and palpable unease with genuine working stiffs.

This is a movie where every single supporting performance is stellar, including an unforgettable turn from Coen regular John Goodman, but still, mention must be made to Michael Lerner’s hilarious take on the vulgar Hollywood studio head, Jack Lipnick, who only wants to inject a little of "that Barton Fink feeling" into his reliably profitable Wallace Beery wrestling pictures.

Comic but with creepy surreal edge, the movie swept the top three awards at the Cannes film festival but flopped in theatres. Nevertheless, the Coens have talked about making a sequel, Old Fink, with Barton as a California academic…