• Fine lines flow throughout 'Lebowski'
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• 'The Big Lebowski' quiz
For them, 'Lebowski' is really big
2,500 will gather in Louisville to celebrate Coen brothers' cult comedy
By Margaret A. McGurk
Enquirer staff writer
Of all the oddball movies ever to win a cult following, "The Big Lebowski" could be the oddest.
The 1998 comedy from Joel and Ethan Coen has morphed from a fun-house mirror version of a private-eye tale into a game, an inside joke, a secret language, a subculture en route from infancy to toddler-hood.
It is "Napoleon Dynamite" for grown-ups, subject of blogs ("Conan O'Brien's League of Irish Big Lebowski Red Sox Fans") and message boards and a yearly festival in Louisville, returning for the fourth time this weekend.
Jason Gilbert, 24, of Blue Ash, said the movie's appeal is its relevance. "It's kind of about how today works," he said. "The guys I'm in a band with, we're all just laid-back people. So when people come in our faces with a bunch of (nonsense), whether it's about a kidnapped girl with a missing toe or whatever, we're just, 'whatever.' "
Gilbert noted that he has never in fact had to deal with a kidnapped girl with a missing toe. That fate is reserved for the movie's hero, the Dude (Jeff Bridges), a profoundly laid-back Californian caught up in the kidnapping of the spendthrift young wife of a conservative businessman.
The Dude would rather go bowling with his eccentric friends, yet finds himself confronting an endless series of indignities to his home, his person and his car.
Gilbert said the movie inspired his band Over the Line (another "Big Lebowski" reference and, coincidentally, a play on a well-known local band's name) along with Stanley Kubrick's "Full Metal Jacket" to dub its sound "Full Metal Lebowski."
Like the "Vote for Pedro" T-shirts that "Napoleon Dynamite" has seeded across the land, Lebowski artifacts have become common on the Internet at such sites as the Thread Pit, Found Item Clothing, and Bridges' own official site.
When Tony Dotson, co-owner of the downtown bar the Viper Room co-announced "This Aggression Will Not Stand Night" (8 p.m. Tuesdays, 513-333-0010) on the Cincinnati music Web site (www.cincymusic.com) June 11, some 80 messages were posted within 12 hours quoting lines from the movie.
The Louisville fest phenomenon, which began with about 150 people at a bowling party in October 2002, has rolled into spin-off fests in New York, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. Co-founder Will Russell estimated that 2,500 people from 35 states and Canada will attend this weekend's fest.
Jeff Kessen, 29, a musician and music teacher from Southgate, found himself at the L.A. version earlier this spring at the end of a road trip.
"Jeff Bridges was there. He came out and played with the band," Kessen said. "It was definitely a gathering of freaks, but nice people. It was mostly guys; there were not too many females there, for some reason."
Kessen's theory is that the power of Lebowski resides in the script.
"You could quote just about every line from that movie. Literally every line is funny. And the guys they cast to play the characters just knocked it out of the park," he said. "Maybe a lot of people identify with the Dude. He's kind of a slacker, but he's a good guy, he's smart, he's clever."
The Lebowski Fest Web site (www.lebowskifest.com) sports an extensive collection of photos showing fans holding up signs referring to upcoming events. This year's signs, for instance, said only "Lebowski 7:23," the date of the fest's bowling party. Pictures taken at Kentucky Speedway and Great American Ball Park in 2003 read "Lebowski 7:19," referring to the date of the second fest.
The fans - who refer to themselves as Lebowski Achievers - find nothing at all odd about the movie's growing cult.
Consider the 47-year-old Green Township Achiever who will be in Louisville this weekend along with a cross-country group of fellow Achievers who bonded on the boards at the time of the first fest.
He wore a Walter costume to the first fest, but won't bother this time. "I gave it up after I saw how some people were really good," he said. "People go to such extremes as to read about how the costume designer in the movie did it - like put pebbles in the pocket (of a vest) and wash it 30 times so it looks used."
His name? You can call him Bones Jones, the online moniker he uses on Lebowski message boards.
"We always refer to each other by Lebowski names," he said, "like 'Over the Line,' 'Bunnie,' 'Nice Marmot,' 'Chinaman,' 'Nine Toed Woman.'
"You get the idea. I'm Bones (as in 'bones or clams'), so that's what you call me."
IF YOU GO
Friday: Lebowski Fest opening concert, 7 p.m., Brown-Forman Waterfront Amphitheater, 1200 River Road, Louisville. Headliners They Might be Giants, joined by openers Corn Mo. "Big Lebowski" screening follows concert. $20 (children 10 and under free), TicketWeb.com.
Saturday: Lebowski Fest Garden Party, 3-11 p.m., Strike and Spare Family Fun Center, 911 Phillips Lane, with music by six bands, $5 at the door.