August 22, 1991 [Barton Fink]

When Barton Fink checks in at the Hotel Earle, I thought maybe I was supposed to be thinking of the old Earle in NYC, where two Dylans and Joan Baez and plenty of others--all the way back to the Moderns and all the way up to the Ramones--sat and waited. But that was just a word, “Earle”--the hotel in Barton Fink couldn’t be anything but Hell, papered in sweaty skin, with a chipper imp, the bellhop Chet--oh, where would we be without the happy-Gollum face of Steve Buscemi?--who nudges Barton into his cell.

Barton’s in the Hell of a writer convinced he has Something to say--and that’s his sin: the certainty that Something will come because it’s his fervent right as an artist. So he’s stuck there, his happy stage a continent away, while a wrestling picture stares him down; and all he can do is wish that he could look up and sing like one of his Clifford Odets-ian tenement dwellers and see the stars up there and get things done.

And then I knew why I couldn’t let go of the hotel’s name: It was Roy Earle all those years ago in High Sierra, Bogart glumly hunched down in his own dead end, looking up at his stars like a real artist--but doomed to wait for a crook’s just desserts. And I don’t care what the Coens intended with that hotel, Barton and Roy sat there together on the edge of the blood-soaked bed and waited--while Madman Mundt showed them the last thing they ever wanted. And while Barton emerges to sit on the beach and watch the gull disappear beneath the surface, Roy has to take to high ground--maybe less fortunate than Barton, but clearer as to where he should be. Then again, Barton has the package, just the right size for damnation, the twine snug against the paper--which even on the sunny beach reminds me of the wrinkled walls of Barton’s room at the Earle.


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