A cult is born: Fans flock to 'The Big Lebowski' festival

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

— The Real Lebowski lives. And people love him.

Jeff Dowd, the inspiration for the main character in the Coen brothers' 1998 mistaken identity comedy "The Big Lebowski," joined more than a thousand fans at the second annual Lebowski Fest -- a celebration of bowling, white Russians and all things Lebowski.

The film "has a rewatchability that most other films don't," said Russell Cooley, a 25-year-old research analyst from Madison, Wis., who drove more than 10 hours to attend. "You can watch it over and over again and it's still funny."

In the film, Los Angles slacker The Dude -- "I bowl. Drive around. The occasional acid flashback" -- is played to perfection, Dowd says, by Jeff Bridges. He then becomes entangled in kidnapping and pornography when all he wants is restitution for his ruined rug -- and he's mistaken for a millionaire of the same name.

"Let me explain something to you. Um, I am not Mr. Lebowski. You're Mr. Lebowski. I'm the Dude. So that's what you call me. You know, that or uh, His Dudeness, or uh, Duder, or El Duderino if you're not into the whole brevity thing," explains The Dude, who's accompanied in his misadventures by bowling partners Walter (John Goodman) and Donny (Steve Buscemi).

Will Russell, the fest's co-founder, said it's his favorite movie because "the characters are brilliant, the dialogue is hilarious."

Said Dowd the Dude: "Sometimes I think they made the film just because they liked riffing on the name."

On Saturday night, 900 people gathered at the AMF Rose Bowl in the garb of The Dude, Walter and Jesus -- The Dude's purple-clad bowling nemesis played by John Turturro -- to roll a few frames and discuss the film in which "The Dude abides."

Friday night, 500 showed for a midnight screening with crowd participation rivaled only by "The Rocky Horror Picture Show."

"Rarely when I see one of my films on TV do I watch the entire thing, but whenever 'Lebowski' comes on, I get hooked," Bridges said from New York, where he's promoting his new film, "Seabiscuit." "I've got to see Turturro lick the bowling ball."


AP Photo

Will Russell, left, and Scott Shuffitt, founders of the second annual Lebowski Fest, manage their event at the AMF Rose Bowl in Louisville, Ky. Russell and Shuffitt, lifelong friends and business partners, first conceived the notion of the Lebowski Fest while manning a T-shirt and sticker booth at a tattoo convention. The pair found a small, affordable bowling alley, printed up $30 worth of fliers and waited to see what would happen.

This year's fest featured some Bridges autographed photos from the set.

"It's kind of a 'Star Trek' convention, but without all the geeks," suggested Jon Cook, a 28-year-old Louisville salesman.

It also was being taped for a future documentary.

Producer Rob Roman, who journeyed from Los Angeles to Louisville, already had 100 hours of footage before Friday night's screening. He wonders: "What is it about this film that would make two guys put a lot of time and energy into creating this festival and what would make people drive as far as Virginia and Arizona to attend?"

Scott Shuffitt, Russell's co-founder of the fest, offered: "It's set in a bowling alley and it's about completely normal people. There are no heroes in 'The Big Lebowski."'

But Bridges disagrees. The Dude is "sort of an existential hero. He takes life as it comes, makes the best of things."