Weekend Movie Picks is a segment at Shoton35.com, where every 2 weeks on Friday I will pick a movie that’s shot on 35mm film and tell you something about it.
| “The Dude” Lebowski, mistaken for a millionaire Lebowski, seeks restitution for his ruined rug and enlists his bowling buddies to help get it.
Overtly based on Raymond Chandler’s classic novel “The Big Sleep”, The Big Lebowski is one of my favourite works from the Coen Brothers, along with No Country for Old Men and Miller’s Crossing. When released in 1998 cinema-goers were baffled by the film, with most viewers not being able to even gather an opinion. However, once the film was available for purchase a cult following began to emerge, which has given birth to the annual Lebowski Fest and a so-called religion named “Dudeism” (it’s real look it up). The world of Lebowski has become an element of modern pop-culture, while Jeff Bridges’ character “The Dude” has developed into an icon of apathy. His days are spent bowling, drinking, experiencing occasional acid flashbacks and delving in pacifism.
“It developed the afterlife on home video. [When] it came out in movie theaters, it didn’t do particularly outstanding business in the theatrical market, but it did in the home video market — and then it became some sort of cult thing. How do you explain that? I have no idea. It’s one of the more bizarre afterlives, too, of any of the things we’ve done.”
– Joel Coen
Do not dismiss this masterpiece as a senseless twaddle, as that would be an unfair accusation for such a multi-layered outing in confrontational, elaborate humour. This is comedy as an art form, and so is conducted on an ambitious scale of subtly intelligent, foul-mouthed wit. Except this is a farce crafted on a mesmerising scale of ingenuity and radiating charm. Characters like Walter Sobchak, Donny Kerabatsos, Jesus Quintana and of course the German nihilists are irrefutable creations of hypocritical hilarity. Throughout the picture The Dude encounters a vast array of sarcastically written characters, which are effectively caricatures of combined personalities. Stylistically, the film is crammed to the brim with stunning film-making procedures (e.g. the Jackie Treehorn section) which accentuate the confrontational wackiness of what could be hailed as a “warped homage to film-noir.” For a film of the ’90s, the soundtrack is punctuated with retro rock & roll from forgotten eras and in essence identifies a “hippy” stance.
Joel and Ethan are able to keep the ransom the main focus throughout, as well as keep the storytelling top-notch and coherent. They are also able to time each laugh with finesse, use Dude as many times as they would use graphic language, and craft unique characters. They are also able to capture the look and feel of each scene, and execute each scene and comedic moment to a fault, showcasing some of their best work to date.
“We wanted something that would generate a certain narrative feeling – like a modern Raymond Chandler story, and that’s why it had to be set in Los Angeles … We wanted to have a narrative flow, a story that moves like a Chandler book through different parts of town and different social classes”
– Ethan Coen
Under the alias “Roderick Jaynes”, the brothers and Tricia Cooke add tons of visual appeal to the dream sequences that are both funny and help with the characterization of “the Dude”, as well as remain convincing under a $15 million budget.
Watching the byplay between the frenetic John Goodman and Jeff Bridges is priceless. Jeff Bridges has never been better, inhabiting the laid back, drugged up and haphazardly heroic role of The Dude with an uncanny ease and magnificent comedic timing – a perpetually watchable triumph of characterization.
“I drew on that a lot. The Coen brothers said, “Oh we’re writing something for you.” And I was so excited because I’m a big fan of Blood Simple. Years passed, finally they presented me with what they had written, and it was, you know, the Dude. I couldn’t figure out where they got this character. It was like nothing I had played before. But it seemed like they had been in a few parties back in the Sixties with me or something. It reminded me a lot of myself back in those days. I smoked my share of pot and all that, and the long hair.”
– Jeff Bridges
Then there’s my favourite character of the movie, Walter. Consistent scene-stealer John Goodman is priceless as faux-Jewish, rage-filled Vietnam veteran Walter Sobchak, a bellowing, stubbornly illogical yet strangely lovable satire of the crass yet well intentioned Western stereotype. Goodman captures the outrageous temper and rage of Walter, and nails his use of quotes and violence to a fault.
“I remember getting pieces of it over the years. I remember that, and just thinking it was gangbusters. I had so many people ask me if it was improvised. I’m not that smart. [Laughs] I’m not that good, but we got lucky and rehearsed for a couple of weeks before we started shooting. That’s why that looks so good, like we’re improvising.”
– John Goodman
One of the inspirations for that character was writer-director John Milius (Apocalypse Now, Conan). An infamously bombastic right-winger with an obsession with all things militaristic and an enthusiasm for guns. His girth, beard, hair style, and shades are all reflected in Walter’s physical appearance of the character.
Steve Buscemi transforms clueless yet lovable into a work of art as the continually “out of his element” Donny. But sheer magic can be found just as much in the supporting cast, with Philip Seymour Hoffman as obsessively prissy personal assistant Brandt, John Turturro as grotesque, purple spandex-clad, gyrating, former pedophile bowler Jesus Quintana, Peter Stormare as a deadpan nihilist porn star and Tara Reid as the compulsively greedy and promiscuous Bunny Lebowski along with the innumerable supporting bit parts each demonstrating exquisitely inventive and staggeringly funny characterizations, all excelling during their respective moments to shine.
I have so much love for this film. So many quotes. So many laughs. There’s no wonder it’s a cult classic, and one with a rabid fan base at that. The Coen Brothers show once again that they are one of the most creative duos working in cinema, going for an all-out original screwball stoner detective comedy rather than trying to recapture the success they found with the dark and edgy “Fargo.” This is one of the few comedies I can watch countless times and laugh throughout the entire movie just from remembering what happens next. With its wacky, labyrinthine plot, hilarious dream sequences, unmatched quotes that have “Coen” written all over them, and two of the greatest characters ever written, The Dude and Walter Sobchak, this is definitely the film to beat as the most beloved Coen Brothers film.
The Dude abides. And I can take comfort in that.