The Fremont in San Luis Obispo is a great old theater. An art deco monstrosity built in the thirties, its one of the last surviving movie palaces. The place is huge, it seats over a thousand people. And last night all of them where filled. Unsuspecting patrons ended up being turned away. That evenings late show of Avatar ended up canceled for an overflow showing.
What kind of film can bring out such an audience on a Tuesday Night in a sleepy small town?
The Big Lebowski of course.
Welcome to THE cult film of the new generation.
Now noting that The Big Lebowski has a cult following is more or less the definition of old news. But everytime I encounter it, I can’t help but be impressed how ground level it is and how fucking huge. People outside were dressed up and quoting lines, that’s not surprising. What is surprising is the level of minutia the average Lebowski head has. Usually not seen outside of hardcore cinephiles, people with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and the otherwise socially misaligned. People are not just dressed as the holy trinity of The Dude, Walter, and Donnie, but as the pin headed chorus girls from the film’s musical sequence and the red leotard clad nihlist. I think I even spot a Knox Harrington a character who appears in one scene in the movie and laughs abrasively through most of it. Who the fuck are these people? And Where Do they go when the movie's over?
The Big Lebowski isn’t a film it’s a virus. One that temporarily spreads cinephelia to the normals.
But why this film? I mean it’s a great film, unique in its structure, rich in detail, and drop dead hilarious. It’s a perfect distillation of the Coens, and never has the word “Meander” been meant in a more positive light.
But that doesn’t explain why it’s just so transmutable. It’s a film I’ve seen dozens of times, and never tire of rewatching. One that is indeed so richly laired that I literally notice something new every time I see it (last night’s new detail Donnie’s shirts never have his name on them). Its not just details, there are jokes planted like Under Sea mines, you sail over them a couple times and then on your seventeenth watch they just detonate (It took the big screen for me to appreciate the sublimely wasted expression on Uli’s face in the pool, and the starkness of the Knudson’s farm. Like If Diane Arbus took landscapes) If there’s an easier film to rewatch then The Big Lebowski I don’t know what it is.
I like to think that the reason for the films popularity, as well as its grace and ease, comes from the fact that the film plays like a giant cinematic Rorschach blot. What is The Big Lebowski? Its whatever you want it to be. If your sitting in the theater surrounded by a thousand screaming fans and you happen to be a little bit high, and you notice The Dude is holding a carton of half and half, and that sets you off wondering if the movie is just one big parable about The Dude as Jesus trying his best to keep Walter the vengeful and only partially rational Old Testament God in line, (And is there a better Satan/ Anti Christ combo then Jesus and Jackie Treehorn) the movie is down with that.
Or maybe its just a Chandler parody, or a just the ultimate stoner shaggy dog story. Maybe slackers and hipsters just like watching a movie whose message is basically, “Fuck It” Maybe there’s absolutely no greater meaning to the movie and its popularity. Maybe it’s just kind of amazing. Well shoot, as The Stranger says, “Now I’ve gone and lost my train of thought.”
But we do know The Dude is out there taking er easy for all us sinners. The Dude Abides, and maybe the reason the film gets such a passionate following, its just damn comforting knowing that he’s just a DVD or ticket stub away. See you all at the next screening.