Review: Barton Fink

Even though I’m a big fan of the Coen Brothers, this is the first time I’ve ever watched this.  I guess the story never really appealed to me, but I always knew I would get around to watching this sooner or later.  This kept popping up on lists of neo-noir films, so I thought it was about time to watch it and give it a review on here.  Would this hold up to my Coen Brothers favorites like Fargo, Blood Simple, The Man Who Wasn’t There and Miller’s Crossing?  This was actually written when Joel and Ethan Coen had writers block while writing Miller’s Crossing.  I recently reviewed this often overlooked classic here:

https://everythingnoir.com/2015/02/15/re-watching-the-classics-a-fresh-look-at-millers-crossing/

Our story is about Barton Fink, played by John Turturro, a writer from New York who soon finds himself in Los Angles to be part of the Hollywood machine.  He check’s into a hotel where he meets his neighbor Charlie Meadows, played by John Goodman.  Fink is hired to write a script for a wrestling film and he has some writers block.  We meet a wide range of Hollywood types throughout the film.  It is a wild ride, but to be honest we don’t get into the noir part of this film until the second half and though we get a bit of a twist, its pretty minor.

On thing I noticed watching this, is the list of amazing actors in this film.  The other is we get no matinée idols here, just a cast of great performers who are their based on their talent and not on their looks.  This is something we don’t see very often.  Some of the actors we see here are Michael Lerner,John Mahoney,Tony Shalhoub, Jon Polito and Steve Buscemi.

This film has a lot of hidden meaning and almost feels more like a David Lynch film then a Coen Brothers film.  For instance the theory that the hotel is actually hell.  Keep that in mind next time you watch it and see what you think.  The ending also made me feel like something out of a Lynch film as well.

Even though it isn’t a pure neo-noir film like some of Coen Brother’s other films, it is a very good film.  The Coen’s make the hotel and old Hollywood look great, the story is interesting(you wonder how much of this film comes out of the Coen’s frustration with the Hollywood system), and it is a thinking man’s movie.  If you are new to Coen Brothers films, I would start with the four films I listed earlier.  If you already have seen most everything from these guys but haven’t seen this yet, you should give it a try.

Favorite Tidbit: John Mahoney’s character is based on William Faulkner.  Faulkner’s first work in Hollywood was for a wrestling movie.  Barton Fink was based on Clifford Odets, a screen writer in Hollywood in the 1940’s and 1950’s.  He wrote screenplays for some great films including everythingnoir.com’s favorites Deadline at Dawn and Sweet Smell of Success, as well as a few other great noir films we will look at.

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Review of a Forgotten Classic: They Don’t Dance Much by James Ross

They Don't Dance Much, 1952.1

James Ross was a writer from North Carolina, he wrote some short stories and wrote for newspapers in the south.  This book intrigued me when I heard about it.  James Ross wrote this country noir book before country noir was a thing.  Daniel Woodrell cites this as an influence in his work.  They Don’t Dance Much was published in 1940 and received praise from his contemporaries, people like  Raymond Chandler, William Gay, and Flannery O’Connor loved the book.  Reviewers of this book often compared him to Chandler and even Dashiell Hammett.  You would think we had a noir literary pioneer on our hands!  And we should have, but Ross didn’t like the comparisons and wished he was in the same company of William Faulkner instead.  Even with the great reviews in its time and praise from other great authors, the book never found a big audience and was in and out of print since. Ross was so disappointed in the sales that he stopped writing novels.  Ross was one and out, but what a one.  It is a shame that he didn’t write more, I really enjoyed this book and can’t imagine what he would have written after this.  This takes a poor man who has lost his farm and takes up a job at a roadhouse.  There is a lot of troubling things that happen here, gambling, adultery, drinking, theft and eventually murder.  The writing is very good and even holds up today.  This book is now being printed by the Mysterious Press so it should be fairly easy to find a copy.

ross

If you want to read a cool book that is getting another chance, check it out.  This book still isn’t very widely read.  It only has 140 ratings on goodreads right now, but is well liked by the ones that have read it.  I hope you give this book a chance and find it as good as I did.