Lebowski Festival: Achievers have arrived

  • Article by: TOM HORGEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 11, 2009 - 12:11 PM

At this weekend's Lebowski Fest, fans of the Coen brothers' cult classic will bowl, drink White Russians and "what-have-you."

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Guy channeling Walter Sobchak (John Goodman) at Louisville Lebowski Fest

"The Dude abides."

To some people, this catchphrase is nothing more than an obtuse line of dialogue from a ho-hum Coen brothers film.

To others, it's a window into the weird, obsessive world of "The Big Lebowski," a movie whose cult following is rivaled by few others. So exalted is this oddball film that throngs are expected to attend this weekend's Lebowski Fest, a touring two-day extravaganza that finally has made it to Minneapolis.

"It's like a Star Trek convention, but with a lot more drinking and bowling," said fest co-organizer Will Russell.

The Lebowski Fest kicks off four weeks more or less dedicated to all things Coen. The hometown boys, Joel and Ethan, are famously reclusive, but on Sept. 25, they will take part in a Regis Dialogue at Walker Art Center as part of the museum's monthlong retrospective of their work. Opening in theaters on Oct. 2 is "A Serious Man," their new film shot on location in St. Louis Park.

Appreciation for the Coens is riding high right now, much as it did in the period that led up to the 1998 release of "The Big Lebowski." After "Fargo" took home two Oscars, big things were expected from "The Big Lebowski" and its all-star cast (Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Steve Buscemi). Instead, the dark comedy baffled critics and bombed at the box office.

Then a strange thing happened. "The Big Lebowski" found new life on home video. Fans identified with the adventures of a born-to-lose pothead simply known as "the Dude." Played by Bridges, this supreme slacker bumbled through the Coens' kidnapping caper -- drinking white Russians, hitting the bowling alley and fending off nihilists along the way. Repeat viewings produced a fan base obsessed with the kooky dialogue and armchair philosophy -- known as "Dudeisms."

From this stew came the first Lebowski Fest in 2002 in Louisville, Ky., started by Russell and his friend Scott Shuffitt. To their Lebowski brethren, they are simply "the founding Dudes."

"I remember on my third viewing my jaw dropped and I was laughing at everything," Russell said by phone recently. "I realized this was the funniest movie ever made."

'If you will it, it is no dream'

In one year, the Louisville Lebowski Fest grew from 150 attendees to 1,200. This year, fans dressed as Dudes, Walters and the film's other characters will converge on 15 cities.

Each Lebowski Fest is spread over two days. Tonight's event takes place at First Avenue, where the movie will play and punk-blues band the Black Diamond Heavies will perform. This is the warmup to Saturday's all-out bash at Memory Lanes, where fans will bowl, compete in trivia and, most important, enter the costume contest. While the Dude himself -- Bridges -- came to the Los Angeles fest one year, as of press time no big names were booked for Minneapolis.

Two guys who definitely won't be there are the Coens. When Russell and Shuffitt wrote their 2007 fan book, "I'm a Lebowski, You're a Lebowski: Life, The Big Lebowski, and What Have You," they reached out to the Coens. The brothers responded with a one-line statement: "You have neither our blessing nor our curse."

'You're not dealing with morons here'

L.A.-based filmmaker Eddie Chung has spent the past five years filming a documentary called "The Achievers: The Story of the Lebowski Fans." An Achiever is to "The Big Lebowski" as Trekkies are to Star Trek. The name comes from a group of children who are referenced in the film as the "Little Lebowski Urban Achievers."

"This is much larger than just the movie," Chung said by phone last week. "It goes beyond just quoting lines and dressing up like characters. There is this underlying identity that all the Achievers share."

Twin Cities Achievers have been preparing for this weekend for some time. Josh Doheny of Minneapolis has seen the movie 50 times and heads up a local "Lebowski" Facebook group (with more than 150 members). He and his friends plan to tailgate before the Memory Lanes party.

"We have a rug to tie the parking space together," Doheny said.

If you're a hard-core fan, that quote should mean something to you. If not, then you're what Achievers call an "amateur." "That's the name for a nonfan," Russell said. "They just don't understand."

But wait, the founding Dude added, there is still time to be converted.

"They can still achieve," he said.

Tom Horgen • 612-673-7909

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