WHERE THE DUDES ARE: A trio of uber-dedicated fans pay homage to Jeff
Bridges’s slacker-antihero star, the real thing.December 3, 2006 — IN
film circles, the term “cult classic” often gets thrown around liberally.
Maybe a movie inspires a generous online message board or even a drinking
game. Then there’s “The Big Lebowski.”
The 1998 Coen brothers film has such a rabid underground following that
it’s managed to inspire an online Church of the Latter-Day Dude, a
speaking tour featuring Jeff “the Dude” Dowd (the independent film
consultant credited with inspiring the film’s main character), an online
petition calling for Jeff Bridges (the film’s star) to run for president
in 2008, and, oh yeah, a drinking game.
But perhaps the greatest display of obsessive behavior from Lebowski
lovers is Lebowski Fest. A multiple-day event where fans come together
across the country to pay homage to the object of their cinematic
And you thought the film was bizarre.
“Everything we try seems ridiculous, but somehow it always works. We do
what we think would be fun, and generally everyone else agrees,” says
organizer Will Russell, who with friend Scott Shuffitt expected 25 of his
closest friends to show up at the inaugural 2002 event in Louisville, Ky.
Instead, 150 people came out. The next year, 1,200 people from 35 states
“The first bowling alley we held [the event at] was called the Fellowship
Lanes. It was a Baptist-run center, so they had a big sign that said ‘no
cussing,’ ” says Russell. “Which is ironic since the F-word and its
variants are said 281 times in the movie.”
Almost five years after its inception, thousands of Lebowski groupies
flock to locales like New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Austin to
partake in the signature silliness drawn from one of the Coen brothers’
most popular, if underrated, films. Plans are in the works for a Seattle
fest, and there’s talk of a European expansion.
This year’s New York stop takes place on Dec. 16 and 17 at Northsix in
Brooklyn and Cozy Bowl in Queens, respectively. Per Lebowski Fest
tradition, tickets ($15 for the first day, $25 for the second) will get
you a bowling tournament, character-inspired costumes, live music, plenty
of White Russians (the film’s signature beverage), and of course, a
screening of the film.
All in honor of a movie that came and went through the nation’s
multiplexes without so much as a murmur.
“When I first saw it I didn’t dislike it, but I was kind of indifferent to
it,” Russell admits. “I think it was the 87th time [that I saw it] when it
was probably the funniest.”
Despite marginal box-office numbers when it was released, the Coen
brothers’ contemporary Raymond Chandler tribute may be single-handedly
responsible for reinvigorating the popularity of Creedence Clearwater
Revival, bowling, and Bridges (who memorably portrayed the film’s
burnt-out, “Caucasian”-sipping, former-roadie namesake). With its all-star
cast, stellar soundtrack, convoluted (and ultimately unimportant) plot,
and whip-smart dialogue, “Lebowski” might be one of Hollywood’s few
genuine cult classics. And the scope of that fandom is best demonstrated
in this ever-growing festival.
While the Coen brothers have yet to publicly comment on the event, actors
from the film appear at different festivals, and Bridges even made an
appearance at the L.A. Lebowski Fest two years ago.
“It was a surprise. No one knew he was going to be there,” says Russell.
“He was holding a drink and said in the most dudelike way, ‘It all seems
like some kind of weird dream I’m having.’ He loves it.”
If the Fest turnout over the years is any indication, he’s not alone.
For info on Lebowski Fest, call (502) 583-9290 or go to