Friday, 19 February 2010

We Do Not Make B Pictures Here At Capitol.

I try. I try and I try and I try. I really do. I try to like the Coen Brothers' films. I recall liking Fargo, though I saw that a long time ago - I do recall liking it a lot, though, so hopefully time hasn't dampened it for me. Maybe I'll check it out again soon, actually. I've seen an awful lot of their films as well. In fact, I mostly like them, and then somewhere towards the end I turn and end up getting angry with them. I remember that in The Man Who Wasn't There. I remember it in No Country For Old Men. The Big Lebowski we've already discussed. And now Barton Fink, a film that has been on my radar since it came up for some class I did back in uni. All I remember was that some lines from the screenplay were involved (making me think it was one of my writing classes, though who can be sure) and that I liked them, always intended to check out the bigger picture, as it were.


Barton Fink (John Turturro) is a Jewish New York playwright who has just had a critical smash in his home town. He is lured to LA to make some quick, easy money working on contract at Capitol, under Jack Lipnick (Michael Lerner), the reasoning from his agent being that he makes a couple of thousand a week in Hollywood, and then he can afford to devote himself to making socially serious plays for a lot longer in the Big Apple. (Keep in mind this is the early 1940s and that money means a fortune, whereas now it is a pretty decent living.)

He checks himself into a cheap hotel and is set the task of writing a boxing picture, only he has never seen a boxing picture (he doesn't really watch movies at all), doesn't like boxing, and has no inspiration, or even really an idea of where to start. And he's under pressure to perform. Cue his neighbour, Charlie Meadows (John Goodman.) Meadows sells insurance, and is a drunk, a friendly fellow, prone to barging in and making Fink feel decidedly uncomfortable. The two, in the end, strike up quite a friendship.

Meanwhile, Fink has called upon W.P. Mayhew (John Maloney), his writing hero also selling himself in the movies. He strikes up a friendship with Mayhew's partner Audrey Taylor (Judy Davis), but that all ends badly in his hotel room. Meadows heads in to help him clean up the mess, and then things start to go strange.

This is what I mean. Things start to go strange. There's just no such thing as a straight story in the Coen universe. Not that I necessarily want a straight story, but I don't want one where I feel the filmmakers are smugly sitting there saying 'ha, we're sooo much smarter and cooler than you.' And that's what I always feel. I sit there waiting for something random to fall from the sky, or for the hallway to suddenly catch fire. I get that we're talking in metaphors. I get it. I really do. But the hallway on fire? Or UFOs? Or whatever? I was mostly enjoying it up to that point!

Actually, I wasn't overly in love with Barton Fink at any point. It was mildly entertaining, and then I just wanted to pelt my television (or, more accurately, my friend's television as I was at his house) with olives. I didn't, obviously, because it was my friend's television. And I didn't have any olives. But still.

Goodman was wildly entertaining. The script was smart enough, harking back a bit to the age of movies it was set in. Turturro inhabited his character quite well. This is probably my least favourite thing I've seen Davis in, and let's remember that I love her to death. But not so much here. Lerner is fabulous. It won the Palme d'Or, and apparently was the first film to win that prize, the Best Director prize and the Best Actor prize in the same year. That's about it. 2 stars. I'm actually getting angry again sitting here writing about it.

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