There's a scene near the beginning of The Big Lebowski in which The Dude approaches the counter at a grocery store, sets down a carton of milk and proceeds to write a check for 69 cents. If you don't think that's funny, you probably don't find The Big Lebowski, as a whole, all that humorous. There's probably nothing wrong with that and there's probably nothing wrong with you. Probably. But for those of us that think this opening scene and every one that follows it serves as a defining moment in not just pop culture but American cinema, well, we're the people who will be at the Tower Theatre on Saturday night - some of us in our bathrobes - to celebrate what is probably the Coen Brother's third best, but far and away most memorable, movie.
When The Big Lebowski hit theaters in March of 1998 no one really gave a shit. In a way, it was a flop, especially considering that Joel and Ethan Coen had won an Oscar for Fargo just one year prior and had now released something that critics didn't know they were supposed to laugh at, which is never good. But over the past 12 years, something has happened to The Big Lebowski, and I don't mean the fact that Jeff Bridges has since won an Oscar. I mean that the film has become one of the most referenced pieces of art to come out of the 1990s. There are people who will tell you something like, "Oh yeah, it's a cult classic." That's bullshit. A cult classic is something like the Rocky Horror Picture Show, because a hell of a lot of people have never heard of the "Time Warp" but the people who have love that song and dance more than they cherish America. And that, essentially, is a cult - which isn't to say there's anything wrong with Rocky Horror fans, but they are a cult.
The Big Lebowski, however, is a different cocktail all together. Most between 20 and 40 years old, at least the ones who reside on the "dinosaurs are real" side of the cultural divide, know what you're referencing if you say something like, "You're out of your element." If you're at a friend's housewarming party and you comment that her rug "really ties the room together," someone will laugh. And if no one as much as giggles, you're at the wrong party. Leave immediately and delete these people from your cell phone.
Then, there are people who have taken The Big Lebowski to a different level. And that's where we can talk about cults. There exists an annual Lebowski Fest, actually several fests now, at which mega fans meet in bowling alleys and drink white Russians dressed as characters, or sometimes specific lines, from the film. This year's party is in Tampa, Florida and you can bet they'll be plenty of Dudes and Walters on hand. In 2009, a book called The Year's Work in Lebowski Studies, was released and it's an impossibly comprehensive collection of academic papers focused somehow on Lebowski. There's an essay in that book titled, "No Literal Connection: Mass Commodification, U.S. Militarism, and the Oil Industry in The Big Lebowski." Or perhaps you'd rather enjoy learning about "The Big Lebowski and Paul de Man: Historicizing Irony and Ironizing Historicism." Makes you suddenly miss college, doesn't it?
There's also a Lebowksi-themed bar in Berlin and another in Prague. In New York City, The Little Lebowski is a store crowded with memorabilia from the film and is owned by a man who insists on wearing a bathrobe to work. If you're so inclined, you can purchase a t-shirt with the complete text of the handwritten Louisiana Purchase report that's found in The Dude's Torino after it was recovered by cops.
So yes, there's a cult of Dudes, but no it's not a cult classic. This is a cultural phenomena and not a fleeting one like MySpace or swine flu, but rather something that only digs deeper into our cultural fabric to the point that there are several 30-year-olds who couldn't name our 27th president (aside from hardcore Taft and/or moustache fans), but could easily recite the entirety of "the bums lost" speech delivered by a furious Jeffery Lebowski after The Dude is so bold as to ask for a replacement for his soiled rug.
Sure, The Big Lebowski is just a mistaken-identity story about a slacker who likes to bowl and smoke the occasional joint and somehow finds himself wound up in a ransom plot that he and his friends are ill equipped to handle. But the film has become much more than that. It's a cultural touchstone and one that's created it's own sub culture. Then again, you might be one of those folks who thinks this is just a movie and those of us that toss out Lebowski lines are merely a gaggle of dipshits with nothing else better to do. Well, yeah, you know... that's just, like, your opinion, man.
Jesse J. Lockwood - The Dude With
Bend-based artist Jesse J. Lockwood is the man behind both the cover art, the image of The Dude on this page and the painting of The Jesus you see directly above. You may have seen his art in different galleries and stores throughout Bend - whether those were his landscapes or surreal pieces, or more likely, his pop-culture inspired pieces, several of which depict characters from The Big Lebowski. His other stenciled creations have put a street art spin on notables like Burt Reynolds, Sean Penn (as Jeff Spicoli, of course), Mr. T, John McEnroe and several others. Lockwood also contributed a poster to the Artcrank event during the Cyclocross National Championships. If you want to take a look at more of Lockwood's creations, click over to jlockwoodart.com, or visit Vanilla Urban Threads in the Old Mill District, where his pieces are currently hanging. He says he also has a limited supply of "I can get you a toe" toes still for sale. We're not sure exactly what that means, but we're incredibly curious.
The Big Lebowski
8pm Saturday, January 8. Tower Theatre,
835 NW Wall St. $10. Tickets at towertheatre.org.