May 24, 2015

Playing the Lebowski card

You can only do it once in your life.  I had been waiting for the right moment.

Let me back up.  I'm okay now, but a few weeks ago I was in rough shape.  Too much going on, too many competing demands, just too much crap degrading my executive function.  Life at work, at home, and in all intermediate spaces, just got - notably unpleasant - not because of any one thing, but just one damn thing after another.  The hour-to-hour experience of it nearly persuaded me that a malevolent alien intelligence was actively working to subvert me (as if malevolent alien intelligences have nothing better to do).

I surveyed the emergency kit, my emotional "In Case of Emergency Break Glass" options.  Alas, the Wodehouse and Cale bins had been stripped bare.  And, I thought, I needed stronger stuff.  Not Shakespeare, Lord knows, it hadn't come to that - I needed a boost, not a hypo of adrenalin jammed into my heart - but half-measures would not do.  The time had come, I decided, to watch The Big Lebowski.

I was not sure what to expect. The film comes with a big reputation, a gigantic cult following, and total domination of the memesphere.  But despite many years of Youtube loitering, I'd only managed to ever see one bit of it, which I liked so much I feared it might be the best part:

I knew it had become popular, which kind of put me off.  And, I had read enough to know that critical opinion is quite mixed.  Siskel disliked it when it came out, comparing it unfavorably to Fargo.  Ebert gave it three stars out of four, but later revised that up to four.  Christopher Orr of The Atlantic recently re-watched every Coen brothers movie, and ranked Lebowski somewhere in the 2nd quartile.  The Coens don't regard it as their best work, but that's just like their opinion, man.

My opinion is:  I laughed my ass off.  I rarely lose my shit watching anything anymore, but there were two straight-up showstoppers for me.  The first is when the Dude is listening to his answering machine.  From the script:

A large, brilliant Persian rug lies beneath the Dude's beat-
up old furniture.
At the table next to the answering machine the Dude is mixing
kalhua, rum and milk. 
Dude, this is Smokey.  Look, I don't
wanna be a hard-on about this, and I
know it wasn't your fault, but I
just thought it was fair to tell you
that Gene and I will be submitting
this to the League and asking them
to set aside the round.  Or maybe
forfeit it to us-- 
--so, like I say, just thought, you
know, fair warning.  Tell Walter. 
A beep.
Mr. Lebowski, this is Brandt at, uh,
well--at Mr. Lebowski's office.
Please call us as soon as is
Mr. Lebowski, this is Fred Dynarski
with the Southern Cal Bowling League.
I just got a, an informal report,
uh, that a uh, a member of your team,
uh, Walter Sobchak, drew a loaded
weapon during league play-- 
We hear the doorbell.

At this point I had to pause the movie to get a paper bag to breathe into.

The second is perhaps a joke only an northern expat in California can truly appreciate.  The Dude confronts Da Fino, the private detective who's been following him.  Da Fino explains that Bunny's family wants her to come home.  They've given him a picture to show to her.  "They think it'll make her homesick."

Whatever you think of The Big Lebowski from a critical or analytical perspective, it would be hard to argue that it is not entertaining.  Like Airplane or Singin' in the Rain, Lebowski is in earnest throughout.  It has the honest striving of vaudeville, it will entertain you or die trying.  David Thomson locates this as the film's primary virtue:  "above all, we like this one because its tattered dignity and straight-faced hilarity served to take the superior smirk off the Coen Brothers’ faces."

Goodman said (at 27:25):  "It's my favorite's one of those things, you're kind of sad, because you know they're not going to come along all that often."  Which is correct.

Bridges' Zen teacher is Bernie Glassman, who wrote the fine Instructions to the Cook.  They, too, find meaning in the film.  I really hadn't bargained on it, but if you're looking for a line to carry you through a bad week, "the Dude abides" is not half bad.

It worked for me, anyway.


Blogger Laird of Madrona said...

I can't believe you hadn't seen it before.

My fave:

I mean, say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it's an ethos.

May 24, 2015 at 9:34 PM  
Blogger The Other Front said...


May 25, 2015 at 9:55 AM  

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