The Dude Abides

I first saw The Big Lebowski in 1998, when it was released. Because of my deep love for movies I was working one day a week tearing tickets at the largest theatre in the world at that time, the 18 screen multiplex at Universal City Walk. I’d stay after work and see movies nearly every Sunday. I love seeing movies on the big screen, love sitting in a darkened theatre, a giant bucket of popcorn in my lap and the energy of strangers all around. Crowds enthusiastically love action movies and comedies, but no one knew quite what to make of the slacker approach to an action comedy that The Big Lebowski presented. Those of us who saw it in the theatre tried to tell our friends about how quirky and funny it was, that “I can’t explain it, you just have to see it.”

The movie didn’t make much money when it was first released, but like Rocky Horror Picture Show, It’s a Wonderful Life and Wizard of Oz, the film has gone on to become a classic, loved devotedly by millions. There are Lebowski festivals, a religion called “Dudeism,” and toys to commemorate the general attitude of the movie.

My life in L.A. was a long and winding path and like Dorothy wandering her strange land, I met some odd and lovable characters along the way. Two Summers ago, I went to a premier of a friend’s movie. I was seated next to a big guy with as many curls on his head as I straightened and tamed out of mine. He introduced me to his date then struck up a kooky, interesting conversation that had me laughing and thinking, two things I love as much as I love movies. His name was Jeff Dowd, and in addition to his decades-long career marketing and producing movies, he served as the Coen brothers’ inspiration for The Dude in The Big Lebowski.

Jeff and I have remained friends and last week, I interviewed him for my new employers, Nola Defender. Click here to read the interview with this storied man who was part of the Seattle Seven and has kept company with some of the most fascinating people on the planet.

The Prytania Theatre, the oldest theatre in New Orleans (1915), shows midnight movies most weekends and this weekend, the feature is The Big Lebowski.

This was my first time seeing the film since having met The Dude (yes, that’s the name he’s been going by since 1961). I’ve sat in theatres next to the person I was watching onscreen. I’ve watched myself on the big screen. But I’ve always been associated with the actors or filmmakers, not the people the movie was actually about. The Dude is far more responsible in real life. He knows where he is, what day it is and what he’s doing almost all of the time, just like the rest of us. But he is exactly who he is with no masks or apologies, as perfectly portrayed by Jeff Bridges in the movie. The Dude Abides.

According to Webster, abide means, among other things, “to endure without yielding.” I never knew The Dude in the 70’s, the era of his life the Coen Brothers were apparently inspired by, but it is clear that, in a town conspiring to change people into products, he has endured without yielding.

Though the movie didn’t actually  begin until around 12:45 am (Inception, which ran its last show at 10, is apparently a pretty long, but great, movie) the theatre was fairly full. A few of us wore Dude costuming, bathrobes, shorts, flip flops and sunglasses. I even had the white v-neck t-shirt and unruly hair. One guy brought a cooler filled with bottles of kahlua, vodka and milk, and mixed some White Russians for our row.

I remembered the amazing dream sequence with Bridges floating through a Ziegfeld-like world of bowling pin girls and it was just as visually stunning on the big screen the second time around. What I’d forgotten is how ridiculously funny that movie is. Toward the end, I actually got concerned for myself when I laughed so hard for so long, that I couldn’t stop to breathe in. The movie ended with The Stranger telling us it comforts him knowing that The Dude is out there. It comforts me even more now that I know who The Dude is, and that he indeed, is still out there.

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