Barton Fink

Barton Fink (1991)

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still from Barton Fink

EDITION 20th Century Fox DVD released May 20, 2003
MOVIE SUMMARY A nervous playwrite moves to Hollywood to write for motion pictures and stays in an evil hotel.
TOBACCO IN SHORT Many random actors smoke, the police detectives smoke, etc.
POSSIBLE SMOKESCREENS (?) The strange hotel, the crazy neighbor, the woman’s sudden murder.



First visual frame at 0:25
Last visual frame at 112:44
Total visual running time: 112:19

1 2:00 ES A seated man sits smoking a cigarette & reading the newspaper in the wings of a stage play.
* 2:04 ES Shot continued from previous: A “NO SMOKING” sign is clearly seen and bathed in red light.
2-3 2:23 ES Shot continued from previous: Same seated man walks to the foreground with a lit cigarette between his fingers (displayed at center screen) and another cigarette over his ear.
* 2:44 WS What appears to be a small green and gold ashtray on the foreground table which is part of the play’s living room set.
4 3:03 ES Shot continued from previous: Two gentlemen join the title character Barton Fink (played by actor John Torturro) and one is smoking a cigar next to the same red light.
* 3:10 WS Repeat of little green and gold ashtray on the foreground table as John Torturro is summoned to the stage by a roaring audience.
5 3:13 2S Repeat of the two producers standing on the side of the stage and same one is smoking a cigar next to the same red light.
6 3:29 HH Steadicam shot through a nightclub/restaurant: A woman in black gloves holds a cigarette up and exhales a puff of smoke into the air as the camera passes by.
* 3:29 HH Dozens of people are sipping alcohol beverages at the same time during this scene.
7 3:35   Continued from previous shot: Man in background of restaurant is smoking a cigarette.
8 3:51   Puffs of blue smoke rise from a nearby table.
9 3:52   Woman in booth next to Barton has a lit cigarette in her hand (seen only for a split second).
10 4:05   Repeat of same. Blue smoke is seen rising from her same position.
11 4:26 TS Tracking/Dolly shot around Barton reveals another background smoker.
12 4:30   Repeat of background booth smoke rising.
13 4:48   Repeat of same.
14 5:02   Repeat of same.
15-17 5:34   Several ashtrays appear on the bar.
18 5:40   Man at bar in the background is smoking a cigarette.
19-20 6:10   Both men in background appear to be smoking (one takes a puff, one holds it in his fingers with a martini).
21-22 6:25   Repeat of same.
23-24 6:44   Repeat of same.
25 7:03   New man in background at opposite end of the bar is smoking a cigarette.
26-27 7:10   Repeat of two smoking men from #19-20.
28-29 7:30   Repeat of same.
30-34 7:45   Lots of ashtrays and spittoons are seen in the lobby (one next to each and every chair).
35 8:49   What appears to be a very nice ahstray on the hotel front desk.
36-37 10:14   Two matching cannister ashtrays are seen beside the elevator that Barton enters.
38 11:32   A brass ashtray is seen on Barton’s hotel room desk.
39 11:41   Repeat of same.
40 12:05   Close up of ashtray on the desk as Barton sets down his Underwood brand typewriter.
41 21:05   Another view of Barton’s writing desk, the brass ashtray is visible.
42 21:19   Repeat of same.
* 22:33   John Goodman has a bottle of alcohol — brand not recognized.
43 24:53   Same ashtray is seen in the background as Barton sits.
44 25:16   Repeat of small brass ashtray in background on Barton’s writing desk.
45 25:31   Repeat of same.
46 26:04   Repeat of same.
47 26:25   Repeat of same.
48 26:39   Ashtray in background is getting closer as camera tightens on Barton.
49 26:55   Repeat of same.
50 27:04   Repeat of same.
51 27:16   Repeat of same.
52 27:22   Repeat of same.
53 27.28   Repeat of same.
54 37:46   Moving even closer to the brass ashtray seen over Barton’s shoulder.
55 38:39   Same ashtray is seen at the closest distance yet.
56 38:50   Repeat of same.
The Coens chose the strangest, most curious looking ashtray with a handle & red matchbook holder on top.
57 38:57   Repeat of same.
58 39:05   Repeat of same.
59 39:17   Repeat of same.
60 39:21   Repeat of same.
61 39:45   Repeat of same.
62 41:17   Repeat of same.
63 41:21   Repeat of same.
64 41:34   Repeat of same.
65 41:46   Repeat of same.
66 41:53   Repeat of same.
67 42:19   Repeat of same.
* 44:22   A different alcohol bottle with a horse label is seen — brand not recognized.
68 49:36   Shot of Barton’s desk, same ashtray is present.
69 51:15   John Goodman with a smaller alcohol bottle — brand not recognized.
70 53:43   Barton sits down at his desk, same ashtray is seen.
* 60:20   Ashtray is now missing from the desk in this particular shot. A pink Pepto Bismol type bottle is seen — brand not recognized.
71 60:50   Ashtray is back on Barton’s desk now in full view.
* 67:27   Mouthwash & Pepto Bismol type bottle seen in bathroom — brands not recognized.
72 70:32   Ashtray appears on Barton’s desk again.
73-75 86:08   Barton walks between two big cannister ashtrays in the hotel lobby. At the last second, a third ashtray is visible.
76-80 86:12   At least five ashtrays and/or spittoons are seen in the hotel lobby.
81-83 86:20   Two LAPD detectives are waiting in the hotel lobby, smoking cigarettes. One puts his cigarette out in an ashtray.
84 86:38 2S One of the police detectives is still smoking a cigarette.
85 86:43   Repeat of same.
86 86:52   Repeat of same.
87 87:01   Repeat of same.
88 87:27   Repeat of same.
89 87:46   Repeat of same.
90 88:03   Repeat of same.
91 88:25   Repeat of same.
92 88:31   Repeat of same.
93 88:37   Repeat of same.
94 88:45   Repeat of same.
95 89:00   Repeat of same.
96 89:08   Repeat of same.
97 96:55   The two detectives wait inside Barton’s hotel room, one is smoking a cigarette.
98 97:18   Repeat of same.
99 97:32   Repeat of same.
100 97:41   Repeat of same.
101 97:47   Repeat of same.
102 97:58   Repeat of same.
103 98:09   Repeat of same.
104 106:54   Deep in the background, a man stands smoking in the hallway.
Don’t give up too soon! Even at the very last possible second there is a tobacco incident!

Additional Thoughts…

This is just one of those movies that has never made that much sense to me… I’ve seen Barton Fink (1991) several times and I still can’t seem to make heads or tails of it… But maybe that’s the point.

“I will show you the life of the mind.”

In many ways, Barton Fink (1991) really helped to fuel my theory about the Coen brothers & Big Tobacco because this film makes very little sense but is always so well regarded by critics. I think it even won the Palme D’Or award at Cannes Film Festival.

At the surface, Barton Fink (1991) is a film about a playwrite who goes to Hollywood to write for motion pictures after finding some small success on Broadway. Along the way, Barton encounters many interesting characters such as the big Hollywood producer, the drunken writer, and the strange neighbor played by actor John Goodman. People always say that Barton actually meets the devil, or maybe that the hotel is the devil, but who the fuck really knows what this movie is actually about. If it matters, I remember reading somewhere that the Coen brothers churned this script out rather quickly. [citation needed]

Perhaps this film is some kind of representation of the Coen brothers visit to Hollywood and how one must sell their soul to the devil to “make it” in the industry. Renowned film critic Roger Ebert even mentions the way that Barton Fink (played by actor John Torturro) sits across the desk from a big whig Hollywood studio head and essentially makes a deal with the devil. Funny… What seems to be a recurring theme in the Coen brothers’ films — essentially agreeing to make a deal with the devil or searching for redemption — might actually be a subtle echo of the dark deal that the Coen brothers maybe agreed to with Big Tobacco.

Anyways, let’s look at the very first scene of Barton Fink (1991)…

Exactly two minutes into the film, a stagehand who has just finished his sole duty passes in front of a man sitting reading the newspaper with a cigarette hanging off his lip. “The sun’s coming up, kid” says the offscreen dialogue as you first see the cigarette smoking man.

Cigarette man lingers in the background as the camera pulls back to include the onscreen play’s director who is also the film’s protagonist, Barton Fink. Next, the cigarette man suddenly drops his newspaper, rushes to the foreground, and performs his sole duty for the play: yelling out a single line of dialogue, his cigarette in hand and shown at center screen.

Without spending too much time looking at or thinking too deeply about this particular scene, my initial Kubrick perception powers tell me that the Coens might be trying to tell you that it is your sole duty to smoke cigarettes… Not only that, the sun will rise if you do. And above all, if you have any downtime onstage, why not spend it smoking a nice juicy cigarette.

And don’t worry — the rest of this film is littered with cigarettes too.

Of course you might be saying that I’m searching for hidden meaning that really isn’t there, but what would be the point of writing this book otherwise? And why did I choose this particular scene? Actually, I just happened to be cataloging the tobacco use in this particular movie in between writing (more on that later).

But back to embedding two blatant cigarettes within the first two minutes of the movie by lowly stagehands who are never seen again… Honestly, what on earth does this bring to the overall film? Can you really argue that all of these little itty bitty uses of tobacco are done solely for adding realistic texture to the film? Would the film seem any less genuine to the time period if these particular stagehands didn’t smoke?

When a stagehand smokes while doing his stagehand duty (however obvious that may seem to people in showbusiness) in a film viewed by millions of people it is just contrived, ugly and pointless.

More insights coming soon…