I'm A Lebowski, You're A Lebowski
Posted on Wednesday March 2, 2011, 15:38 by Chris Smith in Empire States
“Alright! Way-to-go Donny!” screams one of 13 bulky Walter impersonators currently vying for the best costume prize at the Lebowski-fest in Tampa, Florida. After a pin-crushing strike, I send the obligatory riposte his way: “I’m throwing rocks tonight.” Naturally, he barks back with “Shut the f**k up, Donny,” but it’s an endorsement. He likes my costume as well as my bowling.
Lebowski-fest is the celebration of all things The Big Lebowski, the almost universally-adored 1999 Coen brothers’ comedy about a lazy Dude from Los Angeles, who just wants his rug back. It’s a travelling event that attracts “Achievers” - the self-appointed term for fans of the movie - from across the US to show up for two nights of costume parties and movie screenings, white Russians and oat sodas (beers) and, of course, bowling.
The festivities kicked-off on Friday night with the screening, preluded by bands playing songs from the soundtrack. The “la la la la la la la la” from Bob Dylan’s title track “The Man in Me” has the place on its feet and in the mood.
Watching along with 600-odd fellow Achievers, most of whom are saturated in Dude’s favourite concoction of Kahlua, vodka and half-and-half, was more like being at a Credence Clearwater Revival concert rather than a cinema. The loud echo in the room wasn’t down to poor acoustics, but rather from Achievers reciting the dialogue in perfect unison and with uncanny clarity; cheering on The Dude, Walter and Donny and booing the appearance of infamous Chinaman who peed on The Dude’s rug. A genuine air of affection seemed to fill the packed venue.
The feel-good atmosphere carried over into Saturday’s leg of the event, as another 600 folks descended on University Lanes for the bowling party, already feeling like friends. The sentiment was echoed by this year’s special guest. Jeff “The Dude” Dowd is the man who inspired the creation of the Coens’ beloved everyman. He’s the subject of a new documentary being filmed at the event this weekend.
During two addresses to the crowd on both Friday and Saturday he made about as much sense as The Dude himself during his interrogation at the hands of that reactionary Chief of Police of Malibu. Thankfully I got a little more sense out of him during a private chat.
“This movie is best watched with friends,” says the scraggly-haired dude, as he sips on another White Russian. “100,000 homes in the world tonight are watching The Big Lebowski. It’s the movie of choice for people who just want to hang out and feel good. They know that the movie will make them feel good and that’s what Lebowski fest is all about.”
“Am I proud to have inspired this character that’s so beloved? Well above all else, the one thing that stands out is that The Dude is a man who isn’t afraid to tell the truth, from his heart. He tells it like it is, and that’s what Joel and Ethan picked up from me. That’s what we need now or we’re not going to survive.”
After his speech on the future of humanity, Jeff spends the rest of the night playing to the cameras and his adoring fans, while those dressed as Jeff Bridges’ interpretation line-up to be judged on their own take on the character.
The winner of the costume competition, however, was The Big Lebowski himself (the other Jeffrey Lebowski, the millionaire), wheelchair and all. Upon collecting his trophy, he rose from his chair to massive cheers from the crowd. “This guy fuckin’ walks!” screams the organiser.
It was difficult to choose a winner. There was a Walter complete with bloodstains on his chin from biting off a Nihilist’s ear, several Dudes rocking beepers, many picture perfect Jesus Quintana-impersonators that nobody f***ed with, and some immaculately dressed Valkyries and Johnson-cutting Nihilists directly transported from The Dude’s drug-induced dream sequence. White-suited porn producer Jackie Treehorn was giving out his own business cards.
In the bid to find the best Walter, the bloody-mouthed pretender and a former winner, who raised the stakes by “flashing his piece out on the lane”, narrowly lost out to the Walter carrying a perfect copy of Larry’s error-ridden homework and a stuffed version of his ex-wife’s yapping Pomeranian. It was a largely agreeable result.
The winners and losers congratulated each other in good spirits, but naturally there was some friction between two girls dressed as Bunny, The Big Lebowski’s young trophy wife (in the parlance of our time). The bikini-clad blonde shoved her rival out of the way, jumping onto the wheelchair-bound costume champ’s lap for photo opportunity. “Whatever. I don’t need to wear a bikini,” said the ousted Tara Reid wannabe.
By the end of the night, after the last pin had fallen and the last of hundreds of Caucasian had been slurped, my Donny sat convalescing with two new friends, a pair of off-duty Florida law enforcement officers. One was moonlighting as Walter (feeling aggrieved that he didn’t win for his combat boots and coffee jar accessory containing Donny’s ashes). The other, his wife, was dressed as the handyman porn-star Karl Hungus. She’d gleefully had her boobs signed by The Real Dude, shortly before her buddy merrily snogged a different Walter impersonator.
On reflection, the whole thing probably should have seemed a little strange, but it wasn’t. The Dude Abides, and thus so do the Achievers. “I guess that's the way the whole durned human comedy keeps perpetuatin' itself…”
Next stop for Lebowski-fest: Columbus, Ohio in April.
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Posted on Thursday March 3, 2011, 03:11
Chris, I feel you were totally in your element here. This article definitely tied the room together, did it not? Sarsaparillas and White Russians all round! I really wanna go to this!
Posted on Thursday March 3, 2011, 09:39
Sounds like great fun!
Posted on Thursday March 3, 2011, 13:20
please let this article act as the start of a UK Lebowski-fest.
Posted on Thursday March 3, 2011, 21:10
There is a UK Lebowski-fest. I remember there was one in Bristol at least a couple of years ago. I couldn't make it though. Wish I had though. With regards to the article, I'm surprised not one Dude impersonater turned up with a fat bifta conked off his box!
Posted on Thursday March 3, 2011, 23:05
Gosh darnit I love American's ability to take anything of tremendous creative importance and take it so far it should be strange and weird but in fact it's just sweet and you want to join in. Comic Con is another great example of excess in fandom; and it grows every year! There should be more Lebowski fests! Or fests of it's ilk, like The Room screenings, there should be a place for movie fans (or even just Coens fans) to wander around and howl all sorts of random quotes and dress up. MORE I SAY!