Monday, November 02, 2009



"Friday we watch the movie, on Saturday we become the movie." - Will Russell (Founding Dude, Lebowski Fest) First released to bad box office and mostly critical indifference, over the last 11 years THE BIG LEBOWSKI has grown a following of fans so large that they regularly meet for conventions all over the country called "Lebowski Fests."

This documentary, made from modest means, tells the story of how these events celebrating "the first cult film of the internet era" came together - from such ramshackle beginnings as an impromptu party at a bowling alley with 150 people to large lavish venues attended by thousands with appearances by actors from the film, rock bands, and all sorts of special guests usually in costume. Full disclosure: though I've never attended one of the fests, THE BIG LEBOWSKI is one of my favorite films of all time. 

I loved it from the beginning, seeing it in the theater in its original theatrical release more than once. I dragged a few less than excited friends to see it - trying to recruit converts before I even considered a cult was possible I suppose. In the years afterwards I saw it many times recognizing over and over that it was one of the funniest and one of the most quotable movies ever made. It's undoubtedly up there with DR. STRANGELOVE, MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL, and THIS IS SPINAL TAP.

Obviously I wasn't alone in this thinking as people from all kinds of diverse backgrounds started convening for these Dude loving festivals running around in bathrobes or dressed as giant Creedence tapes, severed toes, red suited nihilists with over sized scissors, girls in viking gear, and scores of gun toting Walter Sobcheks who all come to bowl, drink White Russians, and to see yet another screening of the film. 

This documentary, named after the moniker message board forum member Lebowski fans gave themselves which comes from dialogue in the movie ("The Little Lebowski Urban Achievers - and proud we are of all of them."), introduces us to founders Scott Shuffitt and Will Russell who are ecstatically surprised at the ever growing turnouts. 

Russell: "All my nerdiest dreams are coming true." They've been organizing these fests since 2002 (the first one was in Louisville, Kentucky) and through past footage and photographs we get all the, you know, a lotta ins, lotta outs, lotta what-have-yous. 

Definitely a highlight is when The Dude himself, Jeff Bridges, shows up to thunderous applause at a Fest in Los Angeles and with his band performs Dylan's "The Man In Me" (which I guess is The Dude's theme song). Bridges in a later interview in Rolling Stone refers to his reception walking on stage as his "Beatles moment."

They cut away from his performance but that's okay since they later have a much better version of the song (sorry Dude) done by My Morning Jacket at a Fest in 2004. Also resonating are the book ending bits (which also thread through) focusing on a young woman (Stormy Lang) who's passionately determined to win 1st place at a Lebowski trivia competition.

With a looser structure than the similarly themed TREKKIES and perhaps too dependent on interspersed and often punctuating clips from the original movie, this plays more like a glorified bonus featurette than a film in its own right. Indeed one of the most recent DVD editions of the THE BIG LEBOWSKI had a 14 minute excerpt from this documentary so be sure to look for it on 15th and 20th anniversary editions in the future.

Not that that's such a bad fate but at 70 minutes with 25% film clips it's not gonna have the same rewatchability factor as the film it's paying homage to. Also it should be noted that the DVD has no special features itself - not even a proper menu and it's one track with no chapter breaks so we're really talking bare bones here. Still for Lebowski fans it's worth a rental with one good concentrated viewing. 

To see the creative costumes, to hear the anecdotes (especially one I won't spoil involving a friend of Joel and Ethan Coen's: USC Professor Peter Exline), and to feel the vibe from everybody involved is a touching testement to what the Coen Brothers created but then left behind (The Coens do not appear in THE ACHIEVERS nor have they commented on the film's appeal or cult in any recent interview). 

I may yet go to one of the Lebowski Fests so it's nice to get an idea of what to expect and it's also good to know that there's all these dudes out there takin' 'er easy for all us sinners. 

More later...

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