The Big Lebowski, A Cult Classic.

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Next month heralds the 13th Annual Lebowski Fest in Louisville, USA, where fans of The Big Lebowski come together to enjoy White Russians and unlimited bowling, whilst practising the art of taking it easy. Fans from all over the world join in on the weekend event, all dressed up as their favourite characters from the Coen brother’s masterpiece. It’s a wondrous thing, and hopefully I’ll be taking part one year. However, what it is about The Big Lebowski that warrants annual conventions? What is so special about The Dude? Why is Dudeism even a religion?

Well, it all began after the talented Coen brothers won an Academy Award for Fargo. It didn’t take them long to get working on their next feature, The Big Lebowski, which was eventually released on March 6th 1998. The Big Lebowski opened to a mixed response from critics and it received a poor box office return – only making a paltry $5 million during its opening weekend. Yes, sometimes most cinemagoers don’t know what they’re missing out on.

The Big Lebowski stars a varied amount of talent throughout, but the main focus is Jeff Bridge’s character, The Dude. Donning a beard, some shades, slippers and a fashionable cardigan – The Dude has now been cemented in movie history. Along with Jeff Bridges, the movie also stars John Goodman, Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi, the late Philip Seymour-Hoffman and Sam Elliot. Each one of these characters has their own respective, admired moments in the film, which are quoted by fans around the world.

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The film’s plot is essentially a mix of different elements, which may put off the average cinemagoer. Its story has been identified as a light Western before, and even a classic detective story. To some people though, it is much, much more. The Big Lebowski blends a lot of different ideas, such as rugs, bowling, kidnap and mistaken identity. It’s hard to really define what The Big Lebowski is, but it could be argued that it is all about The Dude’s ‘journey’. Does he learn anything from a series of random events? Probably not, but cultists love The Big Lebowski for its muddled plot. It’s just unique that way, dude.

The Coen’s film found a new lease of life thanks to home viewing and the internet, which is no surprise when you discover how truly awful the marketing of the film was. Even the main poster failed at capturing the essence of the film, with the tagline ‘Times Like These Call for a Big Lebowski’. Hell, even the US DVD release of the film has the blurb at the back stating that the rug really made the room ‘hang together’ – horrifically mistaking the famous quote, as fans all know that the rug actually tied the room together.

Nonetheless, word of mouth helped revitalise The Big Lebowski for a more appreciative audience. To put it simply, home viewing and the internet created a massive boom for cult cinema, and this film is no exception to the fact. Finally, it wasn’t up to midnight screenings for cultists to witness their favourite films. Regardless of where they were in the world, cultists could acquire a contemporary film such as The Big Lebowski easily, and then discuss it on message boards. Of course, this has led to a specific replay culture with the movie, allowing fans to dissect it for their favourite quotes, therefore creating loads of tribute videos, such as collections of the infamous line, ‘shut the fuck up, Donny’, found here:

This replay culture specifically benefited one Oliver Benjamin, who is the founding member of ‘Dudeism’. Whilst overhearing some British folk talking about The Big Lebowski on a train, Oliver Benjamin travelled to the nearest rental store to view the film. After returning home, he re-watched the entire thing three times in a row.

His reasoning for this? Well, he claims that The Big Lebowski is like a movie people have never witnessed before. It’s so accessible, and so different. It has unique themes, a certain type of comedy and the film even brings serious subjects into it too, such as issues with society, war, individuality, freedom, work and heroism.

Perhaps Oliver Benjamin might be digging a little deep here, but there’s no denying that some of those themes are apparent throughout. These themes are put into the framework of the film, through the use of metaphors, in a very Dude-like way. That of course, is a testament to the film’s greatness.

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Oliver Benjamin’s ‘Dudeism’ has taken off in a big way, and as of this year, there are currently 220,000 ordained Dudeist priests. What is it though? Well, Dudeism is almost a modern version of Chinese Taoism, but without all of its metaphysical, medical mumbo-jumbo doctrines. It is essentially, the ‘art of taking it easy’. Instead of putting a focus on wealth and work for personal fulfilment, life can be enjoyed with bathing, bowling and hanging out with some good friends.

Apparently life is too short to concern yourself with trivial matters, so kick back and relax, and of all things – abide. Some famous dudes in the history of Dudeism come in the form of Snoopy, Sarah Silverman, Kurt Vonnegut, John Lennon and Crush (the turtle from Finding Nemo). Dudeism has a wonderful message and meaning, as it’s a religion even I can get behind.

If Dudeism sounds like something you might be into, check out their main website: http://dudeism.com. It might be the slowest-growing religion in the world, but it’s coming some way. You can even ordained there, all you need to do is input some simple information in.

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If you haven’t watched The Big Lebowski more than once, and you’re questioning my strange passion for this movie, then stop what you’re doing, and watch the masterpiece all over again. The Big Lebowski becomes a favourite with repeat viewings, and some viewers soon realise just how magical the film is. It’s incredibly layered, and it smashes the typical genre conventions found in cinema. Instead of quoting some of the more well-known lines, there’ll be an appreciation for others used in the movie after repeat viewings. “Mark it zero!”

Let’s forget as well, that The Big Lebowski is one of the Coen’s finest movies, and they have an eye for visuals. The dream sequence alone, featuring Saddam Hussein as a bowling alley employee, is beautiful from start to finish. It is twinned with Kenny Roger’s ‘Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)’, which is a perfect musical choice for such a scene. The soundtrack fits the tone of the movie perfectly.

Whilst the plot might not be easily followed by some, it should be known that The Big Lebowski still has a message to tell. It’s not just some empty pastiche, as the movie essentially shows you what is to be a man and to be a friend. Also, if need be, it also portrays how one should be that particular ‘hero’ when the moment arises (if it ever does).

Of course, it’s clear to see why The Big Lebowski warrants annual conventions. It’s a cult movie which is adored around the world. It’s accessible, it’s different and it spawned a religion. As far as I’m aware, the only other movie to do that was Star Wars, and I’m well aware that Jediism doesn’t have anything to do with taking it easy. It’s all about mind tricks and opening automatic doors.

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So, in conclusion, The Big Lebowski is a cult classic. It’s up there with some of the greats, including The Rocky Horror Picture Show and my personal favourite, Re-Animator. It’s a movie that explores a diverse range of themes, a movie that brought us one of the greatest characters in cinema – The Dude.

Again, if you haven’t checked out The Big Lebowski yet, then do seek out the Achiever Edition, which is lavishly designed with the shape and pattern of the Dude’s aforementioned rug. It also comes with a snazzy booklet. If you want to further your interest, go look for the The Big Lebowski Gift Set, which includes a mug, an award, the Dude’s name tag, a mouse-pad resembling the rug and most importantly, Bunny’s severed toe.

Anyway, thanks for reading, dude. Just as I wrapped this up, some news sources revealed that John Turturro wants a sequel. Turturro played the pederest, Jesus Quintana, and if there’s anyway of involving Jesus and the Coens, it might just be worthy of a successor to The Big Lebowski.

Jesus.

True Grit. Review.

 

 

In the past two years, the western genre hasbeen revived by various creators.  Rockstar’s epic video game Red Dead Redemption was loved by many and now director Jon Favreau is releasing the hotly anticipated comic book adaptation, Cowboys and Aliens later this year.  Along with the recent release of Verbinksi’s Rango and Warner Bros. dismal Jonah Hex, there still seems to be some steam left in the genre.  Whilst the genre seems mostly seems deserted by others, there are still a few people interested in making quality westerns.

Take the Coen brothers for example, whose prodigious cowboy film True Grit tells the tale of Mattie Ross, a young girl attempting to find and seek vengeance on the man who killed her father.  Mattie is joined on her travels by two men, anti-hero Rooster Cogburn and law-man Labouef.  Along their journey of tracking down the murderous Tom Chaney, they come across various challenging trials.  The film features a stellar cast, with the likes of Jeff Bridges, Josh Brolin and Matt Damon.  

True Grit sets itself to be a return to form for the stagnant genre, so thankfully, the film reminds certain people that there is still life in the western.  This is purely due to the great storytelling of the Coen brothers.  Most tales of the west come in the form of revenge stories and True Grit is no exception to that rule.  Hailee Steinfield plays the incredible role of Mattie Ross, as she breathes life into a believable character.  She provides the gusto to Mattie, who is an exceptionable individual stuck in a frightening situation.

Brolin plays the evil Tom Chaney effortlessly, proving to be a reminder as to why the Coen’s picked him for yet another film.  He’s sinister, dirty and everything an outlaw should be. He is a mysterious figure at first, but when he finally makes his appearance, he is a threatening figure, making for a commendable villain.

On the other hand, there’s the Texas Ranger known as Laboeuf, played by the amiable Matt Damon.  He’s clean-cut and straight to the point, portraying a man who is worthy of finally catching Tom Chaney.  His methods may be strange, yet it fits for a character such as Labouef.

Unsurprisingly though, it is Bridges that steals the show here.  Playing a dangerously armed drunk, Bridges’ trigger-happy Rooster Cogburn is an entertaining sight.  Dressed in drab wear, overwrought with facial hair and with a keen eye for his targets, Rooster is a character who will be adored by many.  Some may be unsurprised by his motives towards the end of the film, but it’s a welcoming change of pace.

However, the ending comes with a surprising turn of events much like the book, which is perfect for the Coen’s brothers who are rather keen on ending their films on a unique note.  It works to their advantage and fits well within the frame of the story.

All in all, this western is a return to form for the genre.  It is no surprise that the Coens deliver here, but the performances really add weight to the classic tale.  Some scenes will stick in your mind, especially those concerning Labouef’s incredible aim.  Full of fantastic cinematograghy throughout, look no further then True Grit to experience a modern take on the western, as it builds upon the Coen’s great catalogue of film.