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Barton Fink

Barton Fink is a 1991 film by Joel and Ethan Coen. Arguably the brothers' most enigmatic film to date, it tells the story of the eponymous Barton (John Tutturo), a young, intense, and rather unlikeable writer of Social Realist plays in the early 1940s; his raison d'etre is to 'create a theatre of the common man'. Relocating from his native New York to Los Angeles to earn a quick buck as a contracted writer for a Hollywood studio, Fink is put to work scripting a B-picture about wrestling and, trapped twenty-four hours a day in his sweltering, claustrophobic hotel room, suffers a serious bout of writer's block.

As in many of the Coen Brothers' films, Barton Fink contains a menagerie of grotesque supporting characters, the polar opposites of the simple but noble common men about whom Barton writes. Chief amongst these is Charlie Meadows(John Goodman), Barton's jovial and loyal next-door neighbour at the hotel. Charly is later revealed to be the alter-ego of Karl 'Madman' Muntz, a serial killer with a penchant for decapitating his victims. Also featured is Bill Mayhew, a drunken novelist now working for the studio system, whose great works of the past turn out to have been ghostwritten by his mistress, Audrey.

Barton Fink is an oddly-structured film with many sudden shifts in dramatic tone and nods to many genres, from film noir to pschycological drama to farce. The denoument, in which Charlie/Muntz sets fire to the hotel and guns down a pair of feds, is particularly (perhaps purposefully) jarring. However, the performances are universally excellent, it is beautifully staged and shot, and one could never accuse the Coens of being boring or predictable.

Barton Fink won the Palmes D'Or at Cannes. The Coens claim it was inspired by an attack of writer's block they suffered whilst working on the screenplay for Miller's Crossing.