A playwright’s new Los Angeles gig during the second World War becomes more harrowing than he can possibly imagine in 1991’s Barton Fink, one of the most critically acclaimed movies of the Coen brothers' oeuvre. Here are 15 things you might not know about the Oscar-nominated flick.
1. THE COEN BROTHERS WROTE IT WHILE STUCK ON MILLER’S CROSSING.
Writer-director siblings Joel and Ethan found themselves struggling with the script for their next project, 1990's Miller's Crossing, so spent three weeks writing a movie about a screenwriter with writer’s block. From the beginning, they knew that they wanted John Turturro involved in Barton Fink, and they planned to feature the concept of a “huge abandoned hotel.”
2. THE HOTEL EARLE WAS INSPIRED BY A REAL, CREEPY HOTEL.
When filming their first feature, Blood Simple, in Austin, Texas, an evil-looking hotel across the street featured stationery with the slogan “The Hotel for a Day or a Lifetime” written on top.
3. THEIR RESEARCH MAINLY CONSISTED OF READING ONE BOOK.
That book was Otto Freidrich's City of Nets, about German expatriates living in Hollywood in the 1940s. In passing, it was mentioned in the book that William Faulkner was assigned to write a wrestling picture.
4. THE COENS WERE NOT AS CREATIVE AS THEY THOUGHT THEY WERE.
The two thought it would be funny to have real actor Wallace Beery attached to a wrestling movie. It was only later that they realized Beery actually did appear in a wrestling movie in 1932—John Ford’s Flesh.
5. FINK AND W.P. MAYHEW WERE LOOSELY BASED ON CLIFFORD ODETS AND FAULKNER.
The Coens acknowledge that Fink and Odets had similar backgrounds, but they had different personalities: Odets was extroverted, for one thing. Turturro, not his directors, read Odets’ 1940 journal. The Coens acknowledged that John Mahoney (Mayhew) looks a lot like the The Sound and the Fury author.
6. TURTURRO WENT TO SECRETARIAL SCHOOL.
He went to Brooklyn Heights to learn how to type on a typewriter. Turturro wrote a couple of scenes from his screenplay Romance and Cigarettes on Fink’s machine.
7. JON POLITO REALLY DIDN’T WANT TO PLAY LOU BREEZE.
Polito had his heart set on playing Lipnick, and had to be convinced by Frances McDormand to play Breeze.
8. BREEZE’S HAIRPIECE MADE A CAMEO APPEARANCE ON TELEVISION.
Ethan Coen created the combover hairpiece for Polito, who applied the nasally voice for Lou immediately upon seeing himself in the mirror. He used the same hair as the reverse peephole-hating landlord Silvio on Seinfeld.
9. THERE WAS SOME CONCERN OVER THE MOSQUITOES.
Joel Coen remembered getting a letter from the ASPCA, “or some animal thing,” inquiring as to how they were planning on treating the mosquitoes.
10. STEVE BUSCEMI HAD TO DO A SCENE OVER AND OVER FOR THE COENS’ AMUSEMENT.
As the bellman Chet, there was a scene where he picks up a pair of shoes and puts them in his cart, stopping briefly when he hears a noise. His directors made him do it “six or seven” times just because they liked it so much.
11. YOU MAY HAVE SEEN THE BATHROOM BEFORE.
Mahoney threw up in a Park Plaza Hotel toilet. It was in the same room where Tim Roth went over his cover story in Reservoir Dogs.
12. THE TWO COPS WAS A TROLL JOB BY THE COENS.
Joel acknowledged that they purposely had one of the police officers be “kind of German” to make them representative of the Axis World Powers as a “tease”. They figured some moviegoers would see Barton Fink as a metaphor for fascism and World War II.
13. THERE WAS LITTLE LEFT ON THE CUTTING ROOM FLOOR.
Some footage portraying life in Hollywood studios in 1941 was never used; Joel and Ethan felt, in retrospect, that they looked too ordinary for their movie.
14. IT FORCED THE CANNES FILM FESTIVAL TO CHANGE THEIR RULES.
Barton Fink won the Palme d’Or, Best Director, and Best Actor honors at Cannes. Because of the hat trick, the rules were changed so that no movie could ever win all three awards again.
15. THERE MIGHT BE A SEQUEL.
Joel said it would be called Old Fink, and they’re waiting for Turturro to be old enough to play Fink in 1967, after turning friends over to the House Un-American Activities Committee.