Abide With Me - Celebrating The Fifteenth Anniversary Of The Big Lebowski
, March 9th, 2013 15:52
The Big Lebowski is 15-years-old this week; John Doran recalls the night he donned his flip flops and house coat to head down the bowling alley to drink white Russians with nihilists, Valkyries and a man dressed as a rug
The author and a Stranger in Acton Bowling Lanes
When a convention celebrating the Coen Brothers' film The Big Lebowski arrives in London it seems that a lack of even the most basic of grooming skills and a tendency to sit round all day wearing a dressing gown are the main qualifications I posses to write about it. It is certainly the first time a beer belly, the inability to afford a haircut and the disinclination to shave have been huge professional assets. The movie, a comic film noir, based loosely on The Big Sleep, centres round the unlikely hero of Jeffrey 'The Dude' Lebowski played amiably by Jeff Bridges. All The Dude wants to do is go bowling with his friends Walter and Donny, drink Caucasians (white Russians, a potent milk based cocktail) and smoke the occasional joint; but when thugs mistake him for a millionaire with the same name and pee on his rug, he is sucked into a vortex of pornography, kidnap, nihilism, severed toes and avant-garde feminist art.
It is 15 years since the film was released to a general commercial and critical shrug but its quotability, initial obscurity and bewildering plot have assured it residence in the cult pantheon alongside Withnail & I and A Clockwork Orange. So even though it feels slightly strange walking through Kings Cross at night in a dressing gown, sunglasses and flip flops, by the time I'm approaching the Tenpin Acton bowling lanes in West London, the scene of the first ever English Lebowskifest, I'm far from the only one who is in this attire. In fact once inside the bowling lanes, I'm looking fairly normal compared to the bizarre array of people who have come dressed as Richard Nixon, Valkyries and even rugs. On one of the bowling lanes there is a group of men dressed in white boiler suits and it is only when you see their name tags of "Putin", "Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov"; and "Molotov" you realise that they have come as white Russians. There are immediately obvious advantages and disadvantages to arriving as The Dude. One zesty Maude (Julianne Moore's character in the film) in a dressing gown shouts "Jeffrey, love me!" before immediately apologising to her nihilist boyfriend, who barks at me in a German accent: "I will cut off your Johnson Lebowski!" Martine from Acton is dressed as a Valkyrie complete with Viking helmet and gold bra made from bowling balls. She confides in me that the movie is very much a "male thing" but her boyfriend Matt loves the film so much she'll be "saving the costume for use at a later date".
The youngest fan (or achiever as Lebowski fans refer to themselves) is four week old Ruby. Her mother Rosie (also a Valkyrie) assures me that I am far from alone in being slightly confused by the movie: "Well it is based in part on The Big Sleep which is quite an inscrutable film itself." Little Ruby remains placid all evening despite being surrounded by gun-wielding ex-Vietnam vets, German electro pop stars and middle aged hippies using the F-word with frightening regularity. She is in fact a very dude-like baby. Rosie says that recently on around her 100th viewing she realised that the film was actually about the first Gulf War. But she still hasn't been able to work out what the Coen Brothers are actually saying about it.
Obviously you're not a golfer
Amidst all of the good natured chaos I meet Will Russell and Scott Shuffitt the two fans who kick-started Lebowskifest back in 2002. The pair, who have watched the film over 400 times between themselves, have taken their peculiar vision across the world and are constantly amazed at how many devotees Lebowski has. Will says: "I think part of it is that not everyone gets it, only certain people like it. Also it's a very quotable movie. It's like your favourite rock album that you listen to over and over again." Scott adds: "Also it's the bums versus the squares; that whole anti-authority thing."
They say the biggest fan they have met is Oliver Benjamin or Olly Llama who loves the film so much he has actually built a religion around it. Via his website Dudeism he proudly claims that he is the head of The Church Of The Latter-Day Dude, the world's "slowest growing" religion, which perhaps says more about the benign and chilled out nature of his congregation than how ineffectual it is. There is even a sacred text for Dudeism called The Book Of Duderonomy which contains the following pearls of wisdom: "Respect everyone's point of view. It's just, like, their opinion", "When confronted by unfortunate circumstances, forget about it. You can't be worrying about that shit" and our favourite: "Never trust a cab driver who enjoys listening to The Eagles."
Fortunately, I'm adhering to a pretty strict, uh, drug, uh, regimen to keep my mind, you know, uh, limber.
For most people here this is obviously just a giggle; a chance to dress up and go bowling and drinking. A West London artist called Phillip Mount continuously rubs me on the belly as he says: "Look, not everyone likes a beard but everyone loves The Dude's beard. That's because it's a drinking beard not a thinking beard. Are you with me?" And then he stumbles off back to roll a strike. Mr Mount does not have a beard but he certainly has been drinking. But to a few there is obviously a deeper significance to the film. A friendly Dutchman from Heysel called Tiv says that the film helps him: "I'm unemployed at the moment and if you don't have a job or you are in a downside of your life the film tells you just to chill out do your own thing because shit happens man." Tom Esterline, from Indianapolis, who has travelled all over the world attending these events and wins tonight's costume contest, puts it more simply when he says: "It gives me something to live for man."
Has the whole world gone crazy? Am I the only one around here who gives a shit about the rules?!
Outside another Dude is pushing Richard Nixon round the car park in a wheelchair at high speed while a bunch of young Scouse lads dressed as rugs are playing a game of five a side with a bright orange bowling ball. It's obviously time to leave but there's just enough time to conduct a quick exit poll. My thinking about this feature has become really uptight - what the hell is the film actually about man?
Dave Corbett, who has come as Francis Donnelly the mortuary attendant says: "It's the ultimate way to live your life. I couldn't behave like The Dude because I'd lose my job but I can aspire to be like him and live vicariously through him. Is it spiritual? Yes, it's totally Zen man. The Dude is at one with everything. He abides man."
And what do I think? Well, The Dude (who has a copy of Sartre's Being and Nothingness next to his bed) and narrator The Stranger (an obvious nod to Camus' Outsider) have rejected Judeo-Christian orthodoxy (The Jesus) and Atheism (The Nihilists) and, if you look closely enough, all of the other grand political and religious schemes of the past three thousand years. In fact I'd suggest that he is an example of how John Gray, the social philosopher claims we can only save ourselves by stopping trying so hard to save ourselves... But aw, look at me, I'm ramblin' again... Take her easy for all the sinners of the world, Dude. And don't forget to abide.
All pictures courtesy Lebowskifest & L.Nylind