Posts tagged ‘Jon Polito’

June 25, 2013

DIY Cannes 2013: Barton Fink

Barton FinkTo stave off the depression of not being at Cannes while everyone I follow on Twitter gabs about their new favorite discoveries, I’ve decided to take the opportunity and hold my own film festival. Every night, I’m going to watch a movie I haven’t seen by one of the director’s debuting on the Croisette. Thanks to the power of Netflix, so many foreign movies and older auteur classics are available for Instant Streaming. Who knows what discoveries I might find along the way?

And yes, I know it’s over, but 2 week long trips in the middle of this project set me back very far. I’m going to finish it up anyway BECAUSE I CARE. Or I’m still unemployed.

Movie #20: Barton Fink

Director: Joel (and Ethan) Coen

His Cannes 2013 Movie: Inside Llewyn Davis

The Coen brothers are arguably the greatest film directors of their generation. They have a phenomenal batting average, and at least half of their works seem to be major cultural touchstones. Ever since I saw O Brother Where Art Thou, my first Coen Bros. experience, I’ve done my best to go back and watch them all. Known as the work that really put them on the map, Barton Fink was an inevitable pitstop and the perfect final film for my DIY Cannes marathon.

The titular Barton Fink (played by John Turturro) is a twitchy nervous Jew, transplanted from a mildly successful theater career in NYC to become a screenwriter in Hollywood. While staying at the fantastically weird and dilapidated Hotel Earle, he encounters several larger than life characters who all are pushing him to write his screenplay, yet they only make him more nervous and increase his foreboding writer’s block.

For a movie about writer’s block, the Ethan and Joel surely never had it while writing this oddity. Each of the nut-bags Barton meets along the way is weird and crazier than the last and I honestly couldn’t pick a favorite if I tried. Barton’s next-door neighbor at the hotel, Charlie Meadows (John Goodman), is this incredibly cheery oaf who likes to wrestle and just shoot the shit with Barton. Johns Turturro and Goodman have such phenomenal chemistry, I could watch them talk for hours. Goodman’s commanding confidence is the perfect foil for Turturro’s meek insanity. Somehow, Michael Lerner’s performance as producer Jack Lipnick stood out to the Academy and he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor. While his over-the-top hard-ball negotiations are hysterical (My god, when he kisses Barton’s shoe…. I’m dead.), Goodman certainly gets a lot more to do. Tony Shalhoub is giving the only performance of his I’ve ever liked as Ben Geisler, some other schmuck in the movie business who, if you hadn’t noticed, also likes to boss Barton around. And finally, John Mahoney gets to play the daffy author W.P. Mayhew and Judy Davis his younger assistant Audrey. When you add in a young Steve Buscemi and a never-young Jon Polito, this is one of the most stacked decks of character actors I’ve ever seen.

Fortunately, Turturro is able to ground this wacky cast of characters while also sticking out of the crowd. However, he constantly gets overshadowed by the setting of Baltimore on The Wire the curious Hotel Earle. Every time you hear someone shout or see shoes outside of a door, surely someone else must be in this hotel… right? But who would stay in a hotel with wallpaper that won’t stay on the walls. It’s anyone’s guess. But the Coen’s do such a great job of setting up a mood through this gorgeous set piece that it’s impossible to deny the cultural power of this movie and it’s aesthetic.

My ONLY complaint with this movie is that I don’t fully get it. What were we supposed to learn from watching this? I don’t have a thesis for it. At all. But that’s okay. I can’t wait to watch it again and hope to dig a little deeper.