The Queen and her damned undies: the Lebowski fest comes east
I love The Big Lebowski (TBL). Characters weaving in and out with scant regard for their responsibilities as usual plot devices. Things coming together, making sense, like casual mystic revelations or suburban acid flashbacks and as new shit comes to light one understands that it is from a state of horizontal equilibrium that issues seek their own resolution; the centre abides the ball returns to the bowler. As a fan, you know that some films shake you but the special ones really tie your world together.
As a film, the effortless perfection of the TBL, classic dialogue, and sluggish box office sales guaranteed that it would be a cult film (albeit in hindsight) but hardly anyone could have foreseen the manner in which the cult would grow. And grow it did.
From what started as a bowling rendezvous of lazy hedonism in celebration of the Coen brother’s masterpiece TBL, Lebowskifest has become a long running event where fans from all over the world congregate, share beverages, dress up, and (of course) bowl. Since the 2002 Lebowskifest in Kentucky, each festival has become bigger, toured other cities, and produced some fine merchandise but refreshingly the basic informal and non-corporate format is largely unchanged. So it is that this August there will be Lebowski festivals in Edinburgh (24th) and London (30th) to promote the fan book ‘I’m a Lebowski, you’re a Lebowski’ to be released on August 21st (Canongate).
For ‘I’m a Lebowski, You’re a Lebowski’ (IALYAL) Will Russell, Scott Shuffitt, Bill Green and Ben Peskoe have exhaustively tracked down the inspirations, characters, actors, locations, text, trivia, and a ‘whole lot of what-have-you’ of TBL to answer many of the questions fans have about the movie. Trebuchet decided to ask some more.
First off, what is it about The Big Lebowski?
Will Russell: The film is overflowing with quirky characters, interesting situations and tremendously quotable dialogue. There’s something for everyone: Nihilists, porn stars, slackers, war veterans, bowlers, rich fucks, fascists, pederasts, liberals, conservatives, stoners, arty debutantes – the list goes on. It’s mind boggling how much the Coens stuffed into 117 minutes.
Scott Shuffitt: I think that one constant thing about the Coen brother’s writing is that they create really strong characters, Raising Arizona, O’ Brother, for example, you could dress as the lead characters and someone will know who you are. They are very definable.
WR: From all the interviews we did with the people that know the Coens, they are easily amused by quirky people. They get the biggest kick out of people like Peter Exline who had them over for barbecue chicken to watch the Super Bowl. Every time he would point to a rug that he had taken from an abandoned neighboring apartment and say “doesnt this rug really tie the room together?” they would fall out of their chair laughing. I think the Coens are unique in their ability to see the tiny idiosyncrasies that people have. Apparently they do a lot of “giggling” and only they get what they’re giggling at.
“The dialogue in the book seems different from how I remember it” Do you get that a lot? Is what people come up with more interesting?
WR: I’ll tell you what we’re blathering about, we have incorporated the dialogue as part of our everyday speaking and writing so we may have been referencing dialogue in the text without even being aware of it. Even just keywords or key phrases peppered into sentences are enough to satisfy the Achiever within. It’s always cool when someone can seamlessly work in a reference to the dialogue and only the true Achiever is aware of the reference.
SS: We haven’t gotten it yet since the book has hit the selves yet, but I know myself, I have seen the film close to a hundred times and the dialogue will seem different. Of course there are strands and the drug regiment that could have something to do with that.
You use the term ‘gateway quote’ in an almost creepy fashion throughout the book (pg 129), why?
WR: The term ‘gateway quote’ is used on page 129 as the first quote that is spoken from one Achiever to another wherein they recognize they are equally obsessed with The Big Lebowski. There is an alternate theory, however: We’ve all been taught that the real dangers of marijuana are not that it makes you giggle and gives you the munchies, but that it is a “gateway” drug that can lead to heavier drugs. The highly-addictive quotability of the script can start out innocent with an occasional “Over the line!” or “The Dude Abides” but can evolve into much heavier use where the afflicted cannot help but quote the movie in any situation, usually inappropriately. Instead of simply saying “that would be fine with me” the subject blurts out “mark it, Dude!” In extreme cases, subjects have been seen mumbling to themselves “How are you gonna keep ’em down on the farm once they’ve seen Karl Hungus?” or “I can get you a toe.” The only known treatment involves bubble baths and whale sounds and is highly experimental at this time.
Many of the people interviewed for the book can’t actually bowl but love bowling anyway, why is that particularly Lebowski?
WR: Bowling is fun! It’s the only “sport” where eating deep-fried cheese, smoking and drinking beer is the norm during the game play.
SS: Bowling is very social and it lends itself to munchies and drinking. I would say that is the sport of the Achiever.
Why the UK, why now?
WR: We have gotten tons of requests to come across the pond, as it were. And yes, we aint never seen the Queen in her damn undies as the fella once said. After Lebowski Fest UK, we can die with a smile on our faces without felling like the good lord gypped us.
SS: Why not? We wanna see the Queen in her damn undies! Over the years we have gotten a number of request to come to this city or that including a number in the UK and Europe so when the book was being negotiated, they wanted us to come over to promote it, so how could we pass up on it. It was just the push that we needed.
In terms of inspired Lebowski casting, two words – Jeff Bridges. Is Jeff Bridges the dude?
WR: He’s even more Dude than the Dude. He’s just as cool as you would hope he would be. Most of the clothes he wore in the movie came from his own closet. He wore his jelly sandals when he came to the Lebowski Fest in LA. However, he doesn’t drink White Russians, just Russians (Vodka on the rocks). It is impossible to imagine the Dude being played by anybody else.
SS: Jeff Bridges is the dude! Of course we know a good portion is character, being unemployed, what-have you, but from what I have gathered Jeff is really laid back.
Where will this fascination end? Japan? Afganistan? Australia? Greenland?
WR: Lebowski Fest Tokyo would have to be the last one. The souvenirs would have to light up and be very “blinky.”
SS: It’s hard to say. We have gotten a number of request to take it to Australia and a couple from Japan. If the Achievers want us, we will ah, you know try to gather the unmarked twenties. When we started, going to the UK was far beyond anything I could imagine so you never know.
Is there a sense of progression from one festival to the next (is even asking this question completely undude)?
WR: Other than being in a different place each time, it’s pretty much a bunch of people who love the movie getting together and having the time of their lives. No need to progress from there.
The basic format has been the same since the very first one: bowling, a few beers, a few laughs – our fucking troubles are over.
At each Fest, a “world of Lebowski” is created. The first night, we watch the movie. The next night we become the movie. Valkyries, Dudes, severed toes, and nihilists run amok in a bowling alley fueled by White Russians and great music. Lines of dialogue being traded back and forth, instant bonding among strangers. It’s always a trip!
Have there been any documentaries made of the Lebowski fest?
WR: Many have tried. None have succeeded. We’ve got a pretty promising lead on one getting started this month in Louisville. We shall see.
SS: There have been several attempts. One is called “Over the Line” it looks like it may get finished, but you never know.
Do you think that any costume will ever top the person that came as the ‘Creedence tape’?
WR: I’m still waiting to see someone roll in in an iron lung.
So there you have it folks, books out on the 21st and go to www.lebowskifest.com for festival details.
Mark it, dude.
Poster credit: Bill Green