The Dude still abides.
Come Saturday, Huntington’s Cinema Arts Centre will present “The Big Lebowski” to inaugurate its Cult Cafe series of, well, cult movies in a cafe, man. It’s not that complicated — y’know, as Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski might put it.
“People just love that movie so, so much and want to see it over and over,” Cinema Arts Centre co-director Dylan Skolnick says of Joel and Ethan Coen’s 1998 non-hit, which grossed just $17.5 million in its initial theatrical run and went on to become so beloved it’s spawned a philosophy, Dudeism, plus an annual convention, Lebowski Fest, which celebrated its 14th year in July. It’s the Cult Cafe kickoff, he says, because “it’s so iconic” and should help alert cult-film lovers, “an audience we were underserving. Some are younger, but all sorts of people like cult movies.”
He adds: “Saturday nights around here you can go to a bar or do nothing. Now you can do something unique” for the area — watch a movie in a cafe setting with a full menu and take part in special events.
The cult of The Dude
Among those who’ll be in the audience Saturday night will be “Lebowski” fan Ethan Rosen of Melville, who says he was about 15 when he first saw the movie.
“The first time I probably didn’t get it — I didn’t understand what people really loved about it,” says Rosen, 28, a regional sales executive for a signage company. The laid-back, picaresque comedy-of-manners about a stoner (Jeff Bridges) who’s mistaken for another Lebowski who owes some bad people money has its own rhythm and goofy charm, plus an army of idiosyncratic characters. It’s like a Henry James novel written by “Seinfeld’s” Kramer.
“After my second or third screening, I finally got it,” Rosen says. “You notice things and characters you didn’t notice the first couple of times. It’s also one of the most quotable movies ever. I remember one of my best friends, for years every time he saw me he’d go, ‘Dude, I finally got the venue I wanted!’ ”
That’s from the scene where The Dude’s landlord, Marty, announces that he finally has a place and time for his dance quintet to perform and he’d really like The Dude to be there and give him notes. Trust us, it works in context.
And context will be everything at this screening, which features toy bowling and a raffle for a rug — as in the lament of Walter Sobchak (John Goodman) for one that “really tied the room together, did it not?” Wine and beer will also be served, though not White Russians, that vodka, Kahlúa and cream or milk cocktail The Dude prefers. Audience members are encouraged to come in costume.
The Dude — “That’s what you call me. Y’know, that or, uh, His Dudeness, or, uh, Duder, or El Duderino, if you’re not into the whole brevity thing” — is based on a real person: the Coen brothers’ friend Jeff Dowd, an independent film producer they met in Los Angeles in the 1970s. Vietnam vet Sobchak is based both on screenwriter John Milius (“Apocalypse Now”) and on a real-life Walter whose escapades with the Coens’ friend Peter Exline inspired some of the movie’s scenes and dialogue.
Not that you have to know any of that to attend and enjoy the film’s vibes. “It’s just so damn funny and smart at the same time,” Skolnick enthuses. “It has kind of a Zen message: ‘The Dude abides.’ He rolls with everything and ends up being true to himself. Life can be so topsy–turvy and filled with so many bumps, and The Dude rides over all those and tries not to spill his White Russian in the process.” The movie, he says, “is in the tradition of classic screwball comedies of the golden age of Hollywood.”