For nearly twenty years I have made it a practice to avoid movies by the Coen Brothers. No particular reason, I just do that sometimes. Like with that Morrissey guy. The very first time I heard of Morrissey and The Smiths I decided to go through life pretending that I never heard of the goofy bastard and I didn't bat an eye until inadvertantly seeing him and his solo combo on "Saturday Night live". Pretty damn cool, but I didn't give a shit. I'd done just fine without him and I'd gotten along very well without any input from Joel and Ethan Coen as well.
What's kept me away from those Coen Brothers movies? People always talking about how goddam "Quirky" they, that's what. "Quirky" - That word gets under my skin so bad it's tattooed on numerous parts of my body. "Quirky" and a quarter will get you ripped off by broken pay phone. You ever heard a used car salesman use that word in a sales pitch? "The brakes are kinda quirky so I'll throw in a free first aid kit." "Quirky" - Betcha that's what The Kids In The Hall were shooting for. Don't get me started on "Quirky". But we couldn't talk about the Coens without getting that out of the way and now that we have let's just move on ahead real polite like.
I first saw some of "The Big Lebowski" on Comedy Central. We were having a power outage, but the gas was running so I could still get Comedy Central, MTV, and VH1. It looked pretty good so I rented the video and discovered that, like Dave Attel, "The Big Lebowski" is too good for a greasy sack outfit like Comedy Central. That's why they had to chop it up and mess it up to drag it down to the level of something like "Tough Crowd" - degradation is their sick game, man!
"The Big Lebowski" may seem kind of . . . Oh, silly compared to Big Deal American Cinema like "Blood Simple", "Raising Arizona", "Oh, Brother, Why Bother?" or whatever Coen Masterpiece you like to sit around talking about at parties while all the really cool people are wondering "Who let that jackass in here? Get him outta here so we can start passing Courtney Love around!" but, as you may have surmised from that little comedy bit about the party, around here " . . . Oh, silly" is a positive thing.
The diference between "Quirky" and ". . . Oh, silly" is pretty vague but, from the way people responded to "The Big Lebowski" when it came out people who like "Quirky" don't appreciate ". . . Oh, silly" anymore than Led Zeppelin, Monster Truck Rallies, or the U.S. defending itself against terrorism. I remember one review complaining about certain things in "The Big Lebowski" - It's narration by an Old West Cowboy whose spirit wanders Los Angeles in the form of a Tumblin' Tumbleweed and materializes to ask Lebowski (Jeff Bridges) why he's gotta use so many swear words, "Hallucination" scenes where Lebowski sees himself flying above the city like Superman, crushed by a giant bowling ball, or dancing in a Buzby Berkeley style musical production number set in a funhouse bowling alley with a shelf of shoes that goes all the way up to the Moon and Saddam Hussein works behind the counter - which made it sound like the most stupid thing in the world. So I blew off "The Big Lebowski" as casually as everything else those corny Coens ever came up with. Biggest mistake I've made since letting a bunch of Talking Heads fans dissuade me from buying "Appetite For Destruction" until a half a week later than I would have otherwise - Deprived of three days of kick ass rockin' by a bunch of pinheads and now years of living without the Living Wonder that is "The Big Lebowski"! Shit, what's gonna happen five years from now? I'm gonna find out Clay Aiken is The Greatest?
I'd rather not get into the plot of this movie because it's one of those complicated Crime Story things with a lot of "Intrigue". Don't like "Intrigue" - Hey, if I don't know what's going on I don't give a shit. I see movies like "Chinatown" and I feel like "Why didn't you put off shooting until you had a script that made some kinda sense?". But "The Big Lebowski" is different because it's funny. A movie can get away with anything if it's funny. Or if it has a lot of cute girls. Or zombies. You probably read that and thought "Wow! If you had a movie that was funny and had cute girls AND zombies it would be The Ultimate Movie!!!" But you haven't thought it through, Grasshopper, in a movie like that the zombies would eat the cute girls and that wouldn't be funny.* So that's why the Coens made "The Big Lebowski" instead. Since it is an "Intrigue" filled Crime Story it makes no sense, but it's hilarious which puts it in the same category as "The Bellboy", "Duck Soup", and everything Woody Allen did before he got that whole "filmmaking" deal figured out and turned into the Kosher Robert Altman.
*Leave it to the Japanese to make a funny movie where the cute girls ARE the zombies - "Stacey". Guaranteed Fun Rental!
"The Big Lebowski" is set during the first war with Iraq, a time when the phrases "Line Drawn In The Sand" and "This Aggression Shall Not Stand" were on the lips of every American - Although on the Oughta Be Washed Out With Soap lips of the characters of this movie they're "Fuckin' Line Drawn In The Fuckin' Sand" and "This Fuckin' Aggression Shall Not Fuckin' Stand". Boy, is there a lot of cursing in this movie. I bet "The Big Lebowski" has the word "fuck" in it even more than "Scarface"! And, not only is "Scarface" a lot longer than "The Big Lebowski", but is full of Hispanics! When a movie of only average length full of white people has the word "fuck" in it even more than a really long one full of Hispanics you know you're in for as many "fucks" as a pro basketball player in Colorado for medical treatment.
But these are no typical white men, these are Jeff "The Dude" Lebowski and his bowling buddy Walter (John Goodman). The Yin And The Yang of this particular Odd Couple is that The Dude is an Old Hippie Radical and Walter is an Old Vietnam Veteran. But I probably didn't have to tell you that because Walter already told you he's a Vietnam Veteran as soon as I brought him up a few seconds ago and has reminded you of it five or six times while I'm talking about him right now. Everything that comes out of Walter's mouth is like "Did I watch my buddies die face down in the mud so those Camel Jockeys can fuck around with The Greatest Fucking Country In The World!?! Goddammit!!!" or "Did I watch my buddies die face down in the mud so some asshole can make fun of me in some piece of shit net web zine!?! Sonofabitch!!!" All The Dude seems to be good for is smoking dope, listening to "Creedence", and bowling. Unlike Vietnam Vets, the government never came up with a retirement program for The Dudes Of America - Too bad George McGovern lost the '68 Election, huh? Or was that the '72 Election? I dunno, you fairies are just lucky we settled it with an election instead of The Sporting Way!
What gets The Dude dragged into what passes for this movie's "plot" is when two goons mistake him for another guy named Lebowski, break into his apartment, and pee all over his rug. Intrigue! "Because something is happening here but you don't know what it is - Now, do you, Mister Jones?" wrote Bob Dylan (Who also has a song over the credits of "The Big Lebowski" that begins "La la la la la . . . " and then a lot of other stuff that isn't worth writing about ). Well, I don't know about Mister Jones, but Mister Lebowski don't give a fuck and Mister Walter is going out of his mind.
"They peed on your fuckin' rug, Dude."
Another thing I have learned from this film - Never, ever pee on the rug of a man who bowls with a man who watched his buddies die face down in the mud.
I wish Bill Murray had played The Dude but I think that about the lead in every movie I see. (He would have been good as Spider Man, don't you think?) But Jeff Bridges is so good as The Dude that I bet if Sophia Coppola couldn't coax Bill Murray out to Tokyo for "Lost In Translation" she had Bridges ready to come in and take up the slack. Wow! Imagine an actor so good he can do what Bill Murray does! Jeff Bridges is The King Of The Hollywood Jeffs - Jeff Goldblum washes his car, Jeff Daniels mows his yard, and if he kills someone and gets sent to prison Jeffrey McDonald will be his bitch. When Jeff Dahmer died they offered to let Jeff Bridges have sex with the corpse and eat parts of it but he said "No, thanks - Send it to my brother's house." I'm sorry, I'm just killing time here in the waiting room until the Doctor can remove this Fleshlight I accidentally fell on.
Another possible reason no one went to see "The Big Lebowski" is that John Goodman stars in it. Goodman has starred in so many flops he's one of the few people Chris Rock and Kevin Costner can make mean jokes about. They get together every Tuesday night at a bar on Melrose and sit in the corner cackling hysterically until three in the morning. Goodman was great on "Roseanne" but if I had a nickel for every actor who was good on television but no big deal in the movies I'd have enough money to buy the right to talk about people who were good at one more thing than I ever will be. But as Walter, Goodman is a revelation. I have no idea whatsoever what the hell that's supposed to mean, but that's what film critics always say when an actor turns in a performance so good they can't believe it - It's a "revelation". What a bunch of bathroom perverts. If you go to the Sundance Film Festival stay the hell out of the Men's Room.
The Dude and Walter are a Comedy Team in the Great Tradition of Laurel And Hardy, Cheech And Chong, and Chandler And Joey. If Bridges And Goodman weren't too busy there could have been a whole series of comedy movies about these wacky cut ups and their nutty adventures. But, noooooo - After "The Big Lebowski" Bridges had to play the President in some movie that wasn't even written by Aaron Sorkin and Goodman was . . . Hey, why should I make jokes that only Chris Rock and what's his face from "Waterworld" will appreciate?
As for Joel and Ethan Coen, even if they had never made any movies at all Joel would still have always been "The Guy Who Edited 'The Evil Dead'" and Ethan would at least have been "The Guy Whose Brother Edited 'The Evil Dead'". That could get you laid if you found the right bar. And if you ever find the bar where being "The Guy Who Wrote For The National Lampoon, Was A Stand Up Comic, And Writes For Acid Logic" can get you laid - GET THE HELL OUTTA THERE!!! THOSE PEOPLE ARE ANIMALS!!! YOUR ASS WOULD BE SAFER IN THE MEN'S ROOM AT THE SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL!!!
John Saleeby wrote for The National Lampoon while he was in high school, was a stand up comic in New York, and has contributed to the net humor zines Schmuck.com, Campaign Central, and the legendary American Jerk. He's on medication now so he's probably a little nicer now than he was when you met him earlier. Email - firstname.lastname@example.org