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To herald the 15th anniversary of The Big Lebowski, which is a quintessential Los Angeles story, OC Weekly's sistah paper LA Weekly ran a package of "Happy Birthday, Dude" stories, including a piece by Nicholas Pell titled "The Dude's Johnson" that argued that Bridges' Jeffrey Lebowski represented a functioning penis while the other Jeffrey Lebowski, the titular Big Lebowski played by David Huddleston, represented a flaccid member. This had to do with the millionaire Lebowski showing off power but being unable to satisfy his much-younger, porn-star wife played by Tara Reid. The Dude Lebowski, meanwhile, was alternately hard and soft.
Pell's thesis took me back to Brian Gibson's August 2011 SideVue article, "Citizen Dude," which found the motion picture folds into a Coen Brothers' oeuvre (The Man Who Wasn't There; O Brother, Where Art Thou?; No Country for Old Men; A Serious Man) in which manhood is the main focus. Gibson suggests The Dude referring to himself as a "private dick," worrying about Nihilists cutting off his "Johnson" and playing "the most ballsy of games, bowling" are cues to "hilarious concerns about masculinity."
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The Coens stopped talking about The Big Lebowski in 2007, so who knows whether the movie is a loony metaphor for schlongs. But just as I was ready to dismiss both Pell and Gibson for reading waaaaay too much into the stoner comedy, I flashed back on one of two Busby Berkeley-esque musical numbers in the film, that one that has mound-of-flesh The Dude moving as though a cruise missile between the gams of dames in high skirts.
The Dick abides.
* * *
Let's throw down some plot. Warning: If you have not seen The Big Lebowski but still plan to do so, jump ahead to the next section and keep right on reading.
Cowboy western-tinged, but owing more to Raymond Chandler mysteries set in Los Angeles in the 1930s and '40s, Lebowski jumps ahead to the early 1990s of first Bush family Gulf War fame. Instead of hard-boiled detective Philip Marlowe, we get a pothead bowler of unexplained, meager means at the center of a hopelessly complex jumble.
Baddies rough up Jeffrey Lebowski, who goes by The Dude, in his apartment because they think his wife owes money to someone named Jackie Treehorn. The Dude is not married, has no clue what they are talking about and knows no Jackie Treehorn. Though it becomes apparent the wrong Lebowski has been jacked, a thug pisses on a throw rug on the way out.
Talking this over later with his bowling pals Walter, an overamped Vietnam vet, and Donny, a blank slate, it is decided The Dude must seek compensation for his soiled rug from the other Lebowski, who turns out to be a wheelchair-bound millionaire. Confronted at his estate, the big Lebowski refuses to fork over any money, so The Dude takes an expensive rug with him on the way out, stopping by to say hello to the rich guy's much-younger wife, Bunny, who is in a bikini and painting her toenails by the pool.
The big Lebowski later calls The Dude because someone has kidnapped Bunny, and the millionaire wants the slacker to deliver the ransom money so it can be confirmed whether the kidnappers are the same thugs who'd earlier visited The Dude's apartment. Later, different thugs, who are Nihilists with a marmot, knock The Dude unconscious in his apartment and leave with the new rug. Walter comes up with a plan to give the kidnappers a different suitcase from the one filled with the ransom. But then someone steals The Dude's car with the suitcase inside.
The '90s noir gets even more complicated thanks to a sadistic pornographer, an angry heiress, a "pederast" bowler, the "inner-city children of promise" known as Urban Achievers and trippy dream sequences. But in the end, the Stranger takes comfort that "The Dude abides."
* * *
Will Russell has a breezy drawl as he talks on the phone from his home in Louisville about the Lebowski Fest he co-founded in 2002, which spawned the fan book I'm a Lebowski, You're a Lebowski: Life, The Big Lebowski, and What-Have-You he co-wrote with fest partners Bill Green, Scott Shuffitt and Ben Peskoe, as well as Eddie Chung's 2009 documentary, The Achievers: The Story of the Lebowski Fans.
Actually, Russell seemed happy to be taking a break from his current task. "The goons at TMZ" had just "harassed" Sam Elliott, The Big Lebowski's Stranger, in a parking lot, asking in ambush-interview style why he was not attending Lebowski Fest in LA. "I wasn't invited," the veteran actor replied. That prompted Russell to contact Elliott's publicist to extend the invitation, which was met with interest . . . but only if Jeff Bridges attended. So after my call, Russell would be reaching out to the actor who played The Dude in hopes of landing the actor who played the Stranger.
Russell organized the first Lebowski Fest by putting up fliers in Louisville bars. "We did it as a joke at a rundown bowling alley that was Baptist-run," Russell says. "There was a sign up that said, 'No drinking, no cussing.' It was a place for Christian fellowship, so we thought maybe 20 of our friends might show up. Much to our delight, 150 people showed up, some from as far away as Tucson, Arizona, and Buffalo, New York. We knew we were on to something."
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