Monday, November 5, 2018

A Natural, Zesty Enterprise

It was like walking into a secret society without knowing the password.

Granted, no reasonably cultured woman of my age should have lived this long without seeing "The Big Lebowski," but I somehow had. And it's not because it was a Coen Brothers film, either, because I've seen plenty of them: "Fargo," "Barton Fink," "No Country for Old Men," "Hail Caesar," "Inside Llewyn Davis," "Raising Arizona," "Blood Simple," "Barton Fink."

Okay, nowhere near all of them, but plenty.

And let's not forget that in 1998, "The Big Lewbowski" was just another Coen Brothers movie and not even a blockbuster at that. Besides having lost my taste for big Hollywood movies by then (I also didn't see "Saving Private Ryan" or "There's Something About Mary" that year), I was busy seeing films like "Shakespeare in Love" and "Run, Lola, Run."

Let the movie snob ribbing begin.

But given how "The Big Lewbowski" has grown in stature to a cult film, I was at least savvy enough to know I needed to see it for the sake of cultural references. I'd been aware that for the past three years the Byrd Theatre had held a "Big LeByrdski" screening, but never made it there. So when I saw that this was the 20th anniversary of the movie, I resolved to up my cultural literacy.

Like I said, I was entering a zone for which I had no credentials. Countless people had come dressed as characters in the movie which means beyond the Dude, I had no idea who they were supposed to be. In theory, they were dressed up so they could participate in the costume contest, but since there were more costumes than participants, I sense that dressing the part was just part of the fun.

Hello "Rocky Horror Picture Show."

Byrd manager Todd not only wore a Dude-like sweater but danced the part before his introduction of the film. He also insisted we chant "The Byrd abides!" three times before instructing the projectionist to start the movie, saying, "Let's see what condition our condition is in!"

The near capacity crowd ate it up with a spoon, belched and ate some more.

They cheered and clapped as soon as the title appeared. They hooted and hollered at the mention of "El Duderino," not surprising since many of them were sucking back Center of the Universe's "El Duderino," a White Russian-inspired beer. And while I should have expected it, they repeated lines verbatim along with the actors on the screen.

I got it, the rug really tied the room together.

A guy in the row behind us also sang every song in the movie, word for word, which got annoying, especially during a Creedence Clearwater Revival song because they're a band I can't stand. On the other hand, I felt a kinship with the Dude when he said, "I hate the f*ckin' Eagles, man," given I've been hating on that band since the '70s. So we had that bond.

Certainly the writing was at times hilarious. When John Goodman's character Walter nonchalantly and maniacally tells the Dude, "You want a toe? I can get you a toe, believe me. There are ways, Dude. You don't wanna know about it, believe me...Hell, I can get you a toe by 3:00 this afternoon. With nail polish. These f*ckin' amateurs," I was laughing as hard as anyone.

Even an unlikely detail like the Dude's car spoke to me since I took Driver's Ed in an early '70s four door Ford Torino.

But when all was said and done, after taking in the superb casting - I only wished John Turturro's character Jesus had been in more scenes and seeing Phillip Seymour Hoffman as a toadie was mesmerizing - the unexpectedly elaborate dream sequences, the complete surprise of Sam Elliott being in the movie, I was left shrugging.

This is what all the hoopla has been about?

Granted, my reaction might have been different had I seen it in 1998. With several references to Saddam Hussein, Bush and Reagan, it was very much art of its time and certainly the political incorrectness of it placed it squarely in the '90s.

Which is where I shall leave it to rest, having finally, if temporarily, joined the close-knit Lebowski clan for one brief evening. I am not worthy to put on a bathrobe, sip White Russians and recite dialog along with true fans.

Am I wrong? Am I wrong? Okay then.

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