Monday, 1 April 2013

Alternate Best Actor 1991: John Turturro in Barton Fink

John Turturro did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite winning Cannes, for portraying the titular character of Barton Fink.

Barton Fink is an absolutely brilliant film, easily my favorite of the year, that on the surface is about a playwright who gets a severe case of writer's block as he tries to write a screenplay while staying at a strange hotel.

Barton Fink is a director's film in many ways as Coen brother films often are. Their films though always allow actors to give performances that are interesting all their own while serving the needs of the film. Many of the performances in this film are heavily stylized and effectively so, they tend to fit a particular type and they do this well. Two performances do not do this, one who I will get to soon enough, and the other one is by John Turturro. Although Turturro does fit a particular type Turturro very much goes about playing Barton Fink as a normal human first even though he does happen to fit a certain type at the same time, but he is not defined by this in the same way say Tony Shalhoub's fast talking film producer, or John Mahoney's drunkard writer are.

We first meet Barton as he clearly is presiding over a great success in his first produced play. Turturro doesn't shy away here from being a bit alienating as Fink reacts to the production.Turturro does two things here quite effectively. On one hand he does show a man who honestly reacts to his first play being put on with the proper unease as it is unfolding, but eventually a certain disbelief as he sees his play being love by all.  He sets him up as a bit of retiring sort who is quite a peculiar sort in a way a certain type filled with shyness and hesitations. On the other hand though Turturro sets up Fink's pretentiousness with a great deal of believability. Turturro in this moment gets across Barton as almost over thinking this success, and perfectly realizes Fink as a man who think that though his play is loved by all it still is not that great.

Barton quickly finds himself even less comfortable than before as he moves into the strange hotel known as the Earle. Turturro does something particularly special as Fink in these scenes as he makes him a compelling character to follow despite how self absorbed he keeps his character. Turturro takes his role straight as this Clifford Odets type of playwright who is always very much concerned about his craft. As Barton goes to write film merely to finance more "important" plays Turturro portrays Barton almost as ready to be disinterested by the whole thing, and entirely out of his element. Turturro makes him a man who honestly doesn't understand, and is not at all prepared just to write a b-movie wrestling picture. He stays very subtle, but is quite great in that his realization of Barton is just so pure.

John Turturro just is Barton Fink the playwright who has talent, but his aspirations are far greater than they probably should be. Importantly Turturro does not ever turn Fink into a caricature as it would so easy to have done considering how obtuse Fink is in certain ways. Turturro though is excellent though in his refusal to do this and because of that he succeeds in creating Fink into a truly complex character. Turturro's performance strives well the line of doing what exactly Fink is while still making him a man we can relate to in at least some way. Turturro purposefully does not make Fink a character we easily emphasize with. He does though make Fink human in that his reactions to the more normal things he has very truthful moments that perhaps show Fink without any pretension.

Turturro is actually extremely sweet in his more tender moments like when he goes about meeting one of his writing idols W.P. Mayhew, who he ends up finding rather pathetic and becomes far more interested in Mayhew's secretary/mistress Audrey (Judy Davis). Turturro is terrific in the scenes with Davis because we see a vulnerability as he tries to reach out to her for some sort of companionship as he suffers from some intense loneliness. The way he uneasily tries to ask her out, and later speak to her is all brilliantly handled by Turturro as he shows Fink to be deep down just a normal guy with the needs of any normal man. Turturro treads so well though pitching through the complexities of Fink in those scenes and of course his scenes with John Goodman as Charlie Meadows an insurance salesman who also is staying at the hotel Earle.

Goodman and Turturro have perfect chemistry as two very different men. In these scenes Turturro goes through the whole of Fink. In one instance we see him as the sensitive writer as he expresses Fink's troubles and his inability to write his wrestling picture. He moves so well though as he espouses about his big ideas about the theater of the common man. Turturro is amazing with the amount of passion and energy he expresses in Fink's philosophy loudly but fitting of Fink as this is what really drives Fink to write. At the same time Turturro is so great because the pretentiousness of his ideas, and the fact that Fink really is not all that well versed with the common man is not avoided at all. He makes it all part of the singular man that is Fink the same Fink.

Turturro in his scenes with Goodman is both the alienating Fink as he seems too self absorbed in his own ideas to really even understand what is going on around him, but as well the vulnerable human being who creates a honest friendship with Charlie despite Fink's assuming nature. They are everything together really as Turturro shows that disconnect from the apparently normal man Charlie, and are quite humorous together in the dynamic they create between the two styles that differ so much between the two men. They are quite moving too though when the do reach a connection in some way and the friendship is made quite genuine by both Turturro and Goodman as Barton and Charlie do meet some sort of mutual understanding between the two.

I can't praise this performance enough Turturro is just so good. Turturro never falters once in his vivid creation of this very particular playwright. It is entertaining performance, funny at times, but most of all it is an endlessly captivating performance as we go through the mind and experiences of this man. Turturro not only acts as just a fascinating figure on his own but he also brings us into this strange world that he experiences both inside and outside of the hotel. Turturro does something so incredible here that he is just captivating in  simply looking forward in confusion, understanding, or anything. He makes a stare something to behold all in itself doing so much even in the slightest moment, and he is the one who keeps this film as a singular whole. He matches the film wholly throughout never being overwhelmed instead working in tandem to make the film the unforgettable experience it is.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Yeah, he's fantastic. I thought he was really good in Miller's Crossing, too.

RatedRStar said...

I didnt expect him to get 5 to be honest but I did enjoy him, I think he has this good ability to play normal nerd like characters.

What did you make of him and the other cast members in Quiz Show?

Louis Morgan said...

I thought Turturro was pretty good in Quiz Show though I did think he overplayed a few moments. Ralph Fiennes was quite good. Rob Morrow was a bit dull.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Is it safe to assume Goodman will win Supporting for 1991?

RatedRStar said...

I think Goodman will get 5 stars, but maybe not the win, we ll have to see.

mrripley said...

What did you think of kevin costner in jfk i would love to know.

Louis Morgan said...

I would say it is one of his best performances. Although he doesn't really portray the real Garrison, he does the passionate hero Oliver Stone wanted very well without being one dimensional about it either. He is good at being the straight forward hero in a film filled with shadowy figures.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Again, you have to see him in The Upside of Anger. Great chemistry with Joan Allen, extremely likable character, good sense of humility, and at times even self-deprecating towards his usual screen persona. I'd go as far as to say the best screen performance he's given.

RatedRStar said...

I wonder if Turturro will ever get a real oscar, what does everybody reckon, I see him being like Kenneth Branagh and Max Von Sydow where even though he is a respected actor he never seems to get recognised much as he should do.

Louis Morgan said...

Well with what he is doing at the moment I highly doubt it. I would have to think he came close for Quiz Show, but they decided to reward the veteran for that film instead.

Maybe when he and the Coens finally get around to doing the proposed sequel to this film Old Fink the academy will rectify their mistake for not nominating him for the original.

RatedRStar said...

also I just saw some of the oscar contenders for this year.

The thought of seeing another George Clooney oscar nom makes me feel sick, Tom Hanks playing Walt Disney makes me cringe, thankfully Michael Fassbender seems to be in the running with The Counselor.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Pitt is the "juicy" role in The Counselor, apparently. Make of that what you will. But I agree about Hanks. That casting is on level with Timothy Spall as Churchill, only not as embarrassingly funny.

moviefilm said...

I liked him enough, but I have to rewatch Barton Fink, because I don't remember him very well. If he was excellent, I'd remember him, on the other hand, if he was bad, I'd also remember him.
I don't usually like him, but I remember I thought he didn't bother me and was fine enough...