Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Coen Brothers, Jewish filmmakers

Apparently, the film, Barton Fink, "has also been studied in circles devoted to Holocaust scholarship, of all things."
The year is 1941, Fink is recognized as a Jew (and subsequently slandered), and the other specifically Jewish character in the film is the subject of some racial slurs from his Hollywood exec boss (who briefly alludes to his Russian heritage). The image of the shoes left in the hallway for collection is striking, and Barton is unable to reach his family while staying in the hotel. Mayhew (the John Mahoney character) writes a book called Nebuchadnezzar, reviled in Judaism for the destruction of the temple, and later when Fink opens his bible he comes across a passage in which Nebuchadnezzar has people cut into pieces for failing to interpret his dream (also a connection to Barton's inability to interpret his own dreams as he faces writer's block). Then there are the two detectives, one German (detective Deutsch), one Italian. Most obvious, and the only thing that really directly suggests such an interpretation, is the finale, in which Goodman (whose real name is revealed as Mundt--a German name) kills detective Deutsch after proclaiming a "Heil Hitler."
That's about it from this article (via). The rest of the article is devoted to another interpretation. But, still, it's interesting. The Coen's are known to have more explicitly Jewish films coming up, including A Serious Man and an adaptation of Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union. Previously, I asked about Burn After Reading, "I wonder if anyone else would argue for the film as a response to antisemitic conspiracism?"
It begins with a God's-eye view descending into a CIA building in DC. Inside, the camera follows, from floor-level, someone. Because the camera is so low, we are necessarily looking up at this person, giving them a sense of stature and importance. Yet we can hardly see above his knees. Immediately, the film jokes by contrasting the all seeing, which lacks detail, with the all-detailed, which lacks context.
At the time, I saw it as unlikely that there was an ethno-religious tint to the major themes, but it seems now harder to deny that the filmmakers are concerned with such matters and that such readings are appropriate (if only partial). Maybe time for a Netflixed retrospective for me.

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