Barton Fink and Weimar Cinema
October 15th 2008 @ 11:31 pm Uncategorized

First things first. I must comment on the oh-so Jewish hair exemplified in tonight’s screening. And now that that’s out of my system …

Taking a survey of film history course has afforded me a sort of Langlois approach to cinema in comparing my screenings. While my 102 film exposure has been largely (if not entirely) sequential, mix these in with my other screenings and you get a wonderful sort of jumble–the kind that leads to the Cahiers revolution. Not that I am actually comparing myself with the French New Wave … and there goes the snappy introduction to my free-form connection between Barton Fink and Weimar Cinema. 

There seems to me to be quite a few parallels between Barton Fink and early German cinema, especially Expressionism and Kammerspiel. For the first, the setting is as, if not more, important than the character’s actions, and is the only concrete place where these events could possibly have “logical” causality and cohesion. For the second, there is attention to urban circumstance, interior character life, unity of place and time with relatively few characters and locations.  Barton Fink seems to use sound in many of the same ways that Fritz Lang did in M. In other words, not just as a montage element, but to visualize the interior lives of it’s tortured characters. Here’s a taste, for those of you who haven’t seen it … 

Similarly to the treatment of ordinary sounds as signifiers (the extra long ringing of the bell), ordinary objects become sinister portents. The peeling wallpaper, dripping glue and the dribbling sweat–each seem more than just odd. They physicalize the interior lives of the characters in a disturbing way. My ultimate question is, whose interior life? The obvious choice seems to be the namesake of the film: Barton Fink. He is unquestionably our protagonist. However, I can see how an argument could be made for the hallway fire externalizing Charlie Meadow’s psyche instead. That is, of course, if he is really a murdering madman. The sum of my ramblings seems to be: Is the character Barton Fink entirely determining of the point of view of Barton Fink?

-Leslie Stonebraker
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