This Barton Fink article was written by David Lowes, a GIGsoup contributor
The film – produced and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen – is a black comedy about writers’ block, murderers, and fascism, all set in 1940s Los Angeles (or Los Angleles as Barton keeps saying). You would imagine then that Burwell had many headaches over how to score and score well such an off-the-wall film.
Burwell has collaborated with the Coens for every film they’ve made, except ‘O Brother Where Art Thou?’. So when I say that Fink represents some of Burwell’s best work, you’ll understand that is no mean compliment.
The soundtrack may come in at a fairly paltry 14-minutes long (most film soundtracks are around an hour in length), but the trick with Burwell is that it’s applied expertly. From the ‘Fade In’ set in the Los Angleles hotel we get a beautifully understated score. Sounds are very important in Barton Fink everything from the bells in New York to the mosquitos that buzz around the Hotel Earle, so it is important that Burwell doesn’t try to compete to heavily with the soundscape.
But at the same time it is important that Burwell builds up the tension for the many twists and turns the narrative takes. It is a job that he does brilliantly. Although Burwell insists that he had no specific inspiration (compare this with the heavy use of Irish folk music in Fargo, and the early-seventies inflection on The Big Lebowski) for the film’s sounds he creates music that is dead-on for every scene, from when Barton checks in to when he meets Lipsnick.
Although you don’t get the musical crescendos you get in other Coen films at the moments of revelation (Fargo, etc.) – hell, you could quite easily miss the soundtrack if you aren’t listening properly. You don’t need them. You get the wonderful sense that the film and the soundtrack conduce perfectly.