Lebowski Fest Takes Brooklyn
In the Coen Brothers’ 1998 Film, The Big Lebowski, it seems like everything goes wrong for the lovable, amiable, bowling-ball slinging, white Russian guzzling Los Angeles ne’er do well Jeffrey Lebowski, aka, The Dude. First, he gets mistaken for his namesake, a millionaire curmudgeon, and then, as a consequence, has his house broken into and his favorite rug urinated on by two bad guys looking to collect a debt from the other Lebowski’s young wife. After approximately 117 minutes, The Dude has everyone on his tail—bad guys, nihilists, pornography moguls—and they all want something. It’s tough for The Dude; for such a laid-back guy, a whole lot of people don’t like him. But lucky for Lebowski, last Thursday night there was nothing but love, respect and admiration for the Dude and his legacy: It was Brooklyn’s very first Lebowski Fest, fittingly hosted by the nabe’s brand new alley, Brooklyn Bowl.
From the stroke of seven on into the evening, Lebowski fans, fanatics, enthusiasts and wanna-bes shuffled into the joint, clad in sweaters and bathrobes, Viking outfits and bowling pin-up costumes, ready to compete in Lebowski-themed trivia, sling back a few white Russian milkshakes and, of course, take to the lanes, just as the Dude would have wanted—though a guy who wrote a check for a half-quart of milk might not have been so wild about the $30 cover charge.
Though this year marked the very first Lebowski Fest in Brooklyn, the festival itself has become a true Big Lebowski fan-boy institution. The brainchild of Scott Shuffitt and Will Russell, two enthusiasts from the South, the first Lebowski Fest was held in their hometown of Louisville, Kentucky in 2002, and essentially served as little more than an excuse to hang out, have a few drinks and talk about The Big Lebowski with fellow fanatics. However, over the past seven years the celebration has ballooned—it now takes place in fifteen cities across the United States, and attracts thousands upon thousands of what Lebowski fans refer to as “achievers.”
“We’ve started to get requests from people actually asking us to bring Lebowski Fest to their town,” Russell said. “It’s just a bunch of achievers—that’s the name for a Lebowski fan. It’s like a trekie, but drunker. We get together and bowl and drink white Russians and dance. It’s great…It’s so great!”
Organizers Shuffitt and Russell each admit to have watched The Big Lebowski more than 150 times, in addition to managing a related website and message board, and having co-authored a fan book called I’m a Lebowski, You’re a Lebowski, with a forward by Jeff Bridges—The Dude himself.
Apart from the love and fun of the film, the pageantry and cult following The Big Lebowski has inspired over the years is a testament to the relatability of its cast of characters, as well as the very nature of the film itself: an absurdist, escapist adventure that, perhaps more than anything else, distracts any viewer with half a sense of humor from his or her own troubles.
“When I first saw The Big Lebowski, it was out on VHS tape and it stayed in my VCR all the time,” Shuffitt said. “I was working all the time—driving trucks for an automotive plant—and it was a nice little getaway. Also, it’s quotable, so you can watch it with your friends and everyone knows the lines. And I love the characters—it’s the movie I’ve been watching for ten years, and those characters are like my friends that I’ve been hanging out with for so long.”
The organizers, though the most knowledgeable by a long shot, certainly weren’t the only die-hards in the bunch—many attendees follow the Festival as it travels across America, and strongly identify with the film and its characters in their own, personal way.
“This really is a community,” said Joey Curry, dressed as “the whites,” who has been to four Lebowski Fests in various cities. “I can really relate to it. It’s a brotherhood, a comeraderie. We are all here for the love of Lebowski. Everyone has a little bit of The Dude in them, whether they know it or not, or want to admit it. He is the most real, relatable and dynamic character I’ve ever seen.”
Two Dudes dressed in matching bathrobes wander into the foyer, one holding a quart of low-fat milk.
“Dude, it’s supposed to be half and half!” says one Dude to the other.
“Dude! This Dude’s on a diet!”
So it goes at Lebowski Fest.
Because in a moment of economic instability and turmoil, times are tough, and times like these call for a Big Lebowski.