the colonial theatre marquee

The Big Lebowski

Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. US. 1998. R. 117 minutes. Universal. 35mm.
Sponsored by Valor Men's Grooming Lounge, Salon Fiber and Grace Tattoo
Fri., January 20, 2012

Our screening of this excellent cult classic has morphed into a full on EVENT of epic proportions. Arrive early and bask in the glow of The Dude with complimentary White Russians (limit 1 per) courtesy of show sponsors Salon Fiber, Valor Men’s Grooming and Grace Tattoo; custom show posters for sale by local artist Chris Garofalo (check the FB event page for a preview), a costume contest with prizes for best male/female;  and the Thrifty Discount DJs spinning his favorite Lebowski inspired tunes from 9:30-10. Could you abide a better time? The Dude doesn’t think so!

“With Joel and Ethan Coen’s The Big Lebowski, among the most quotable movies this side of Double Indemnity or Sweet Smell Of Success, perhaps the best place to start is a quote. This one comes from “The Stranger,” Sam Elliott’s sarsaparilla-drinking cowboy narrator, about Jeffrey Lebowski, a.k.a. “The Dude,” the ill-kempt hippie burnout, bowling enthusiast, and accidental detective played by Jeff Bridges: “Sometimes there’s a man… I won’t say a hero, ’cause what’s a hero? Sometimes, there’s a man. And I’m talkin’ about The Dude here, The Dude from Los Angeles. Sometimes, there’s a man… well… he’s the man for his time and place. He fits right in there. And that’s The Dude. The Dude from Los Angeles.”

As the narration rolls out, we see The Dude in all his majesty, skulking around the dairy aisle at a grocery store, sniffing through the cartons to find half & half to stir into his beloved White Russians. Streaked with the blond highlights of a California surfer gone to seed, his shaggy hair spills over into an ensemble that includes an open gray robe, a dingy white V-neck that barely contains his billowing paunch, blue plaid shorts, and a pair of open-toed jellies that seem custom-designed for ambling. Upon reaching the checkout line, he pays with a check for $.69. From this brief snapshot, the Coens very nearly reveal the whole picture.

That said, who doesn’t love The Dude? And who’s to say he isn’t a hero anyway? Inspired by Raymond Chandler detective novels—and the hazy L.A. vibe of Robert Altman’s brilliant Chandler adaptation The Long Goodbye—the Coens have created a character not far removed from Elliott Gould’s Marlowe in the Altman movie, a laid-back gumshoe dragged reluctantly into a case his conscience (and curiosity) quietly implores him to solve. Just as Marlowe would much rather hang out with his cat and the commune of free-spirited (read: frequently topless) hippie women next door, The Dude would like nothing more than the peace of a hot bath, a doob, and the soothing sounds of bellowing whales piped through his Walkman headphones. But the funniest running joke of The Big Lebowski is that someone is always there to drop the proverbial ferret in the water: The laziest man in Los Angeles County, the ultimate in live-and-let-live hippie pacifism, is constantly being pushed out of his shell.

…The Coens wrote The Big Lebowski with Jeff Bridges specifically in mind as The Dude, and it’s one of those roles so instantly iconic that it would be hard to imagine anyone else pulling it off. Bridges is, in my view, the greatest actor alive, and what’s striking about his work as The Dude is his utter lack of vanity and self-consciousness. Playing a long-in-the-tooth stoner burnout would seem to invite a cartoonish goofiness—and many of the supporting characters in the film exhibit just that—but Bridges slips Zen-like into his skin and doesn’t go mugging for effect. The miracle of Bridges’ career is that he’s a brilliant character actor who just happens to have the features of a marquee superstar (see also: Paul Newman), so he gets the plum lead roles, yet you rarely catch him “acting.” His line-readings and gestures are chief among many things that give The Big Lebowski infinite rewatch value: His mid-toke inflection on “That’s a bummer, man”; his all-too-relaxed spread-eagle posture while cruising in the backseat of a limo; and the slow-burning exasperation that curls across his face when Walter thoroughly botches their friend’s eulogy and ash-scattering.

Arriving on the heels of the Coens’ austere thriller Fargo, at the time their most widely embraced film (in terms of Oscar-worthy prestige, anyway), The Big Lebowski opened to mixed reviews and anemic box-office, with many casting it off as a frivolous lark following their great leap forward. (This is also roughly what happened to Burn After Reading in the wake of No Country For Old Men, and though a reappraisal of the former is definitely due, I’m not entirely convinced it’s on a level with Lebowski.) The film’s subsequent success on DVD—and the regular midnight screenings and Lebowski-fests that have popped up in the meantime—is a classic example of an impassioned cult resurrecting a film’s tarnished reputation. Quotes from The Big Lebowski have become a form of cultural currency second only to The Simpsons; for modern cult-movie fans looking for fellow travelers, they’re the closest thing to a Vulcan hand-sign we have.” (Scott Tobias, read the full review at The Onion A.V. Club)