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TheDudeStillAbides... 16 Years Later... his whole room is kind o dude-like,” JeBridges says. It’s a summer afernoon at Bridges’ Santa Bar- bara, Caliornia, estate, and the 58-year-old actor is digging around his dusty garage, looking or mem- orabilia rom Te Big Lebowski. Artiacts rom the movie are strewn about his Spanish-tiled house. In Bridges’ recording studio – where he once cut an album with Mi- chael McDonald – sits one o the bowling-pin hats used in the trippy dream sequence with Bridges and co-star Julianne Moore. In his oce are the grimy jelly sandals that Bridges’ character, a slacker called the Dude, wore or most o the lm. When we walk up to the ocean-  view bluwher e Bridges lik es to hike every day, there’s the remains o a cocktail in a dirty cup. It’s a Black Russian. As ar as I can tell, this seems like the biggest dier- ence between Bridges and his most enduring character, who preers his Russians white.  Now Bridges, a our-time Oscar nominee, is rooting through a giant stack o cardboard boxes in his garage. Afer a while, he clutches something and pulls it out.  Ahhh, he says. “Here it is.”  It’ s the Sweater. As in, the beige and brown zigzag cable-knit sweater that the Dude The Dude

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The Dude Still Abides...

16 Years Later...

his whole room iskind o dude-like,”Jeff Bridges says. It’sa summer afernoonat Bridges’ Santa Bar-

bara, Caliornia, estate, and the58-year-old actor is digging aroundhis dusty garage, looking or mem-orabilia rom Te Big Lebowski.Artiacts rom the movie are strewnabout his Spanish-tiled house. InBridges’ recording studio – where

he once cut an album with Mi-chael McDonald – sits one o thebowling-pin hats used in the trippydream sequence with Bridges andco-star Julianne Moore. In his office

are the grimy jelly sandals thatBridges’ character, a slacker calledthe Dude, wore or most o the film.When we walk up to the ocean- view bluff where Bridges likes tohike every day, there’s the remains

o a cocktail in a dirty cup. It’s aBlack Russian. As ar as I can tell,this seems like the biggest differ-ence between Bridges and his mostenduring character, who preers

his Russians white.  Now Bridges, a our-timeOscar nominee, is rooting througha giant stack o cardboard boxesin his garage. Afer a while, heclutches something and pulls itout.  “Ahhh,” he says. “Here itis.”  It’s the Sweater. As in,the beige and brown zigzag

cable-knit sweater that the Dude

The Dude

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The Dude Still Abides...

wears through much o Lebowski.For a die-hard an, it’s like seeingHarrison Ford dig out IndianaJones’ edora.  Bridges sees me smiling and

laughs hysterically. “Here, try it on,”he says.  “I can’t,” I say. It would bewrong.  “C’mon,” he says.  I put the Sweater on. It’s

heavy, and way too big. Bridgesgrabs my cellphone


“Move your right shoulder a littlebit to the side,” he says. “Head up alittle bit, perect, right there.”  o think this is all about astrange movie that bombed when

it came out in 1998. But in the 10years since its woeul release, TeBig Lebowski – a tangled DesertStorm-era comedic caper directedby Ethan and Joel Coen (Fargo,

Raising Arizona, No Country forOld Men) – has become the mostbeloved movie o its generation.Young comic stars like Seth Rogen(the co-writer and star o the

current hit Pineapple Express) andJonah Hill (Superbad ) worshipthe film. Te Internet teems withLebowski tributes and videos (like“Te Mii Lebowski,” a homage

till Abides

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4 Cult Film Magazine

done entirely using Wii video-game characters), and the film hasinspired dozens of academic papers,with titles like “Logjammin’ andGutterballs: Masculinities in Te

Big Lebowski.” Several times a year,thousands of costume-wearingfans flock to conventions calledLebowski Fest. Bridges attended aSouthern California Fest a few yearsago – “My Beatles moment,” he says.o date, Te Big Lebowski has made$40 million on DVD – more thantwice what it made in theaters – andin September, Universal is releasinga 10th-anniversary limited-edition

DVD of the film, which will come(of course) in a bowling-ball case.  Why has Lebowski becomean early-21st-century phenomenon?Te answer may be as complicatedas the film’s labyrinthine plot, whichthe Coen brothers loosely based onthe L.A.-noir novels of RaymondChandler. Part of Lebowski maniacan surely be attributed to the fact

that it’s just a very funny premisefor a film. Bridges’ Dude (real name:Jeffrey Lebowski) is a listless L.A.pothead wiling away theearly 1990s playing ina recreational bowlingleague with friends Wal-ter Sobchak (a mercu-rial Vietnam vet playedby John Goodman) andDonny Kerabatsos (a

mild-mannered sidekickplayed by Steve Bus-cemi). When a pair ofclumsy thugs confuse the Dude withanother, wealthier Jeffrey Lebows-ki – peeing on his prized rug in theprocess – the Dude is thrown intoa screwball escapade that involves a

family feud, a gang of nihilists, theavant-garde art world, the SoCalporn scene, lost homework, ara

Reid and a missing toe.  But that’s just the start of it.Early in Lebowski, the narrator (a

cowboy named theStranger, played bySam Elliott) intones,“Sometimes there’sa man, who, well,he’s the man for histime ‘n place.” Te

odd truth is thisman – the Dude –may have been a

decade ahead of his time. oday, astechnology increasingly handcuffsus to schedules and appointments– in the time it takes you to readthis, you’ve missed three e-mails –

there’s something comforting abouta fortysomething character whowill blow an evening lying in the

bathtub, getting high and listeningto an audiotape of whale songs.He’s not a 21st-century man. Noris he Iron Man – and he’s certainlynot Batman. Te Dude doesn’t careabout a job, a salary, a 401(k), anddefinitely not an iPhone. Te Dude

 just is, and he’s happy.  “Tere’s a freedom to TeBig Lebowski,” theorizes Philip Sey-

mour Hoffman, who played Brandt,the wealthy Lebowski’s obsequi-ous personal assistant. “Te Dudeabides, and I think that’s somethingpeople really yearn for, to be ableto live their life like that. You cansee why young people would enjoythat.”

“The Dude abides,and I think that’ssomething peoplereally yearn for, to beable to live their lifelike that. You can see

why young peoplewould enjoy that.”

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Cult Film Magazine 5

“Lebowski is one o those

rare magnets o the uni- verse that has the power to

change time and space, to draw peo-

ple and events together,” says James.

  “Te Dude is like Dirty

Harry,” says the brash conservative

screenwriter John Milius (Apoc-

alypse Now, Dirty Harry), one o

the Coen brothers’ inspirations

or Goodman’s manic vet, Walter

Sobchak. “Dirty Harry became a

movement. And the Dude became amovement. It’s symbolic o a whole

way o lie.”

  No one is more surprised

by the extended lie o Lebowski

than the people who made it. When

I meet him one afernoon in L.A.,

Goodman immediately tells me it’s

his “avorite thing [he’s] ever workedon,” and he laughs uproariously

when I quote him some o Walter’s

best lines (a avorite: “Say what you

will about the tenets o Nation-

al Socialism, Dude, at least it’s an

ethos”). Moore, who played Maude,

the estranged artist daughter o the

wealthy Jeffrey Lebowski, says it’s

“one o the movies people mention

most to me. I keep saying that one

o these days I’m going to go to aLebowski Fest.” Adds Buscemi, who

has appeared in nearly 100 films,

including a ew Oscar winners, “I’ll

pass three guys on the street, and

they may just give me a nod. Tey

don’t even have to say a line rom the

movie. I know what movie they’re

thinking about.”  Bridges, too, says that he

never really saw Te Big Lebows-

ki’s second lie coming. An actor’s

actor, he has played rowdy townies

(Te Last Picture Show), quiet aliens

(Starman), louche piano players

(Te Fabulous Baker Boys) – but

none have had the impact o the

Dude. And while some actors have

difficulty accepting the indelibility

o a well-loved character, that is notthe case with Bridges. He is at peace

with the Dude. When asked i he

would be upset i Te Big Lebowski

is the movie he’s most remembered

or, Bridges doesn’t hesitate. “No,” he

says. “Not at all.”

“... the Dude became a movement.It’s symbolic of a whole way of life.”

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6 Cult Film Magazine

The Inspiration

When Joel and EthanCoen began writing TeBig Lebowski, they were

at a low point in their careers. Afer

starting with a pair o hits, BloodSimple and Raising Arizona, theMinneapolis-suburb-raised broth-ers had churned out a string o crit-ically worshipped box-office disas-ters: Barton Fink, Miller’s Crossingand Te Hudsucker Proxy. Reelingrom Hudsucker (a big-industryspoo that cost $25 million andmade less than $3 million back),the Coens began work on two sepa-rate scripts. Te first was Lebowski.Te second was a much darker filmabout a desperate car salesman

who hires two thugs to kidnap hiswie. Called Fargo, the film became atouchstone o the mid-1990s in-dependent-film explosion – and itmade money. It was nominated or

seven Oscars, winning Best Actress(Frances McDormand) and BestOriginal Screenplay, with the Coenssharing the latter award.  But the wild success o Fargolef the Coens conused. “I a mov-ie like Fargo succeeds, then clearlynothing makes much sense,” Ethansaid at the time. “You might as wellmake whatever kind o movie youwant and hope or the best.” aking

that to heart, they returned to finishTe Big Lebowski, a film that hadbeen in the back o their minds or

years. o orm the plot, they drewinspiration rom Chandler as wellas rom the real-lie exploits o theireccentric L.A. riends. “A couple othe characters in Te Big Lebowski

are, very loosely, inspired by realpeople,” Ethan said in 1998. “Weknow a guy who’s a middle-agedhippie pothead, and another who’sa Vietnam vet who’s totally definedby, and obsessed with, the time hespent in Vietnam. We find it in-teresting or our characters to beproducts o the Sixties in some waybut set in the Nineties.” (Te Co-ens – as is their requent position

regarding Lebowski in recent years– declined to be interviewed orthis story.)

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Cult Film Magazine 7

Besides Milius, the maininspiration or Lebowski’s

Vietnam vet was Peter Ex-line, a script doctor the Coens metwhile making Blood Simple, whomthey called “Uncle Pete, the philos-opher king o Hollywood.” A thin,gray-haired man who bears a aintresemblance to Beatles producerGeorge Martin, Exline, with hisoutsize personality and his lie-time o insane stories, ormed thebackbone o the film. “At one point,

I couldn’t go 10 minutes withoutmentioning Vietnam,” admits Ex-line. He also played in a Hollywoodsofball league in the mid-1980s –Exline recalls an angry ony Danzaonce walking off the field duringa game – which the Coens used asodder or Lebowski’s wild bowlingleague.  Ten there’s the rug. Te

amous Lebowski rug has its originsrom a party at Exline’s house in thelate 1980s, which the Coens at-tended. Exline had just laid down aake Persian rug in his living room,picked up rom neighbors who hadmoved out. “As I’m barbecuing,

every 15 minutes or so I’d lookdown and say, ‘Doesn’t this rug tie

the room together?’” Exline says. “Ikeep milking this joke, and every-one’s really laughing.”  At the same party, Exlinesays, he told the Coens and hisguests a bizarre story about thetime his Mazda was stolen andwound up in an impound lot. In-side the recovered car, Exline ounda kid’s math homework assignment,which led Exline and his riend and

ellow vet Lew Abernathy to the

home o a 14-year-old kid namedJaik Freeman. “We sit down, andLew got out the homework. He’swalking around the living roomlike Perry Mason. He sticks it in

Jaik’s ace and goes, ‘We know youstole the car, Jaik.’” Te homeworkincident, too, was written into TeBig Lebowski.  “I remember when Petetold us that [homework] storyand thinking there was somethingquintessentially L.A. about it,” JoelCoen once said. “But L.A. in a veryChandler-ian way.”  Chandler, o course, a-

mously wrote about a gritty night-time L.A. in which his protagonist,detective Philip Marlowe, encoun-ters a series o increasingly weirdcharacters the closer he gets tosolving a crime. Te Coens drewinspiration rom classic Chan-dler novels such as Te Big Sleep,which eatures a wheelchair-boundmillionaire, a beautiul wild child,pornographers and an angry heiresswho attempts to seduce the hero.

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8 Cult Film Magazine

Te Lebowski plot also mirrorsFarewell, My Lovely, in which Mar-lowe is a passenger in a ridiculouslycomplicated plot, and is beaten upand knocked unconscious through-

out the story.

When Te Big Lebowski hittheaters on March 6th,

1998, critical reaction was mixed.Most declared it an overindulgent,too-quirky departure rom thecomparatively sparse Fargo; a ewound it hilarious. Gene Siskeland Roger Ebert’s argument over

the movie perectly encapsulatedthe debate. Ebert: “Few moviescould equal [Fargo], and this onedoesn’t – though it is weirdlyengaging.” Siskel was much

harsher. “I justthink thatthe humor is


he said. “Isn’t

Box Office Performance

kidnapping or ransom a tired plotthese days? Kingpin was a muchunnier movie set in the world obowling. Te Jeff Bridges characterwasn’t worth my time. Tere’s noheart to him. Te Big Lebowski? Abig disappointment.”  At the box office, Americawas still in the midst o itanicmania. Tat March weekend, thethree-hour James Cameron epicwould win its 12th

“It’s like they were operastars who sang a perfect

aria - and farted as theywalked offstage.”straight weekend box-office battlewith a $17.6 million haul. Te BigLebowski opened in sixth placethat weekend with a tepid $5.5million, placing it just $300,000above Good Will Hunting, whichhad come out three and a halmonths earlier. Te shine o Fargowas all but orgotten: Te Coenswere back to making overpriceddisasters.  “I thought it was

hysterical, and I thought thatJeff and John were geniuses andthey both deserved AcademyAwards,” says Moore. “Nobodysaw it, and I was like, ‘What?!’”

  “Afer this incrediblycontrolled minimalist gem that

Fargo was perceived to be, TeBig Lebowski was like thisourette’s outburst in thelimo on the way home romthe Academy Awards,” saysBill Robertson, the CoenBrothers’ college riend.He gives another analogy:“It’s like they were opera

stars who sang a perect aria– and arted as they walked


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Cult Film Magazine 9

he rise o Te Big Lebowskirom bomb to late-blooming

cult sensation was gradual. Many o

its biggest ans had the same initialreaction as Gene Siskel. “It was veryconvoluted,” says Lebowski Festco-ounder Will Russell, 32, whoruns a -shirt shop in Louisville. “Ithink everyone comes to it the sameway they come to anyother movie – expect-ing the plot to carrythe [film]. What youfind is that the plot is

ultimately unsatisying.[Te plot] is just theramework they used to build thesegreat characters and this amazingexperience.” Russell says he’s watchedLebowski more than 100 times: “It’s

 just two hours o bliss.”  Indeed, as audiences startedrevisiting Lebowski, momentumbegan to build. By 2001, movietheaters were showing it at midnight,

alongside cult classics like Te Rocky

Horror Picture Show. Lebowskiquotes (“Shut the uck up, Donny!”“Over the line!”) became a new ormo communication on college cam-puses. Cable stations began showing

the movie regularly (Goodman’sline “Tis is what happens whenyou uck a stranger in the ass” waschanged – rumor has it by the Co-ens – to the riendlier “Tis is whathappens when you find a stranger in

the Alps”). Recordstores started sellingLebowski postersnext to the one oBob Marley smok-

ing a joint.  Cast mem-

bers, initially crushed by the movie’spoor perormance, began seeing ev-idence o this groundswell about fiveyears ago. “I noticed more and morethat the [ans] were younger andyounger,” Goodman says. “Some-times they’ll throw out a ‘Shut theuck up, Donny.’” Buscemi, who livesin New York, says he’ll get Lebowski

lines said to him all the time on the

street.  It was six years ago whenWill Russell and his riend ScottShuffitt put up fliers around theirhometown o Louisville, inviting

ans to a Lebowski party at a localbowling alley. “We thought 20 oour riends would show up,” Russellsays. “It ended up with 150 people– some even rom out o state.” TeLebowski Fest is now a five-times-a-year event that attracts thousandso “achievers” (the preerred no-menclature o Lebowski ans) whodress up in themed costumes (aCreedence cassette tape, little Larry’s

homework) while pounding WhiteRussians. Actors with bit parts likeRobin Jones (the Ralph’s supermar-ket checkout girl who sells the Dudehal-and-hal at the start o the mov-ie) regularly attend.  “Young people today arepressured to perorm and perorm sothat their grade-point averages willbe incredible. And the whole timethey’re watching society spend away

their uture and realize their stan-dard o living is going to be muchlower than their parents’.” Tat’s whyyounger ans gravitate toward theDude, Robertson says, “a characterwho is reasonably smart, thoughdoobie-addled and by anyone’sstandards a ailure, but who is still anincredibly good-hearted person witha sense o loyalty to his riends. At

the end o the movie, what you’re lefwith is that [it’s OK] i you are a loserso long as you’re a good person.”

A Cult Following

Tis story is rom the September 4th, 2008 issue oRolling Stone.

“At the end of the movie,what you’re left with isthat [it’s OK] if you are aloser so long as you’re a

good person.”