Now, it’s worth mentioning that you might remember this column from the past, but with a different by line. Admittedly, this is a concept I stole from the elusive Ian Arbuckle and it’s worth it to go back and read his previous entries (the last one he wrote – Suspiria – is here). While this column is more of a reboot than a continuation, let it not be said that I’m not a man who acknowledges his peers.
So, with all of that out of the way, let’s get this started with a movie about a dude…
The Big Lebowski (1998) – Buy it from CHUD
In 1998 I turned 18 years old, was fresh out of high school (or counting down the days until I was fresh out of high school, depending on the month) and hadn’t a clue who or what a Coen Brother was. I also liked Staind and Godsmack and Kid Rock. Basically – 18-year-old me was a douche. I had seen the trailers for The Big Lebowski but to me it just looked like a movie about old people who liked bowling too much (DOUCHE!). Then, of course, over the years, the thing became a pop-culture phenomenon – endlessly quoted with imagery plastered all over every type of merchandise imaginable. I knew that the Dude abided. I knew that this aggression would not stand, man and I knew that Jesus would fuck me in the ass on Wednesday. But I didn’t know why and, honestly, even though I had started to grow up and grow out of my rampant douchebaggery, because of the ubiquity of it all I ended up developing an ambivalence to it as a result of its overexposure and I couldn’t be bothered to care.
Until I saw O Brother, Where Art Thou, No Country for Old Men and Burn After Reading. Gradually I found myself knowing how important the names Joel and Ethan Coen were and I wanted to see more. And to be honest, I didn‘t even know that this belonged to the Coens (again, I got sick of hearing about it so I promptly blocked it out of my head) until I saw the trailer for A Serious Man. So once it popped up on Instant (the catalyst for my seeing a lot of the movies I’m gonna write about here), I decided to give it a shot.
And I’m tremendously glad I did. I’ve seen a handful of the Coens’ movies – enough to get a feel for how and why they do what they do – and this feels like an essential entry in their career. I’m able to pinpoint a lot of common Coen trademarks and even though the implementation of those trademarks has indeed improved with each subsequent film, it obviously helps to see the evolution of the two as filmmakers (and yes – I realize that Lebowski is only their second big-budget film and to REALLY get a sense of their evolution as filmmakers I’m gonna have to go back to 1984’s Blood Simple and work forward. But that’s a discussion for another column). I thought the narrative had a few pacing problems and even though the dream sequences were amazingly well done (for some reason the lighting in those scenes really stood out to me – everything was so RICH) they did tend to perhaps go on a little too long. Again, you guys have seen this a million times and there’s nothing I can add to the discussion on content that hasn’t been covered a million times over, but I will say that even though I can respect its importance, part of me feels like its reverence is undeserved. It’s a really good (almost GREAT) film and the script sizzles, but the people who quote it ad nauseum and the people who elevate The Dude to some sort of Everyman Hero seem to have missed the point entirely (or perhaps I did). Yeah he seemed to have learned a few things but when the credits rolled he ended up exactly where he started. There’s no reason for this to have spawned the sort of phenomenon that it did, other than the quotability – it’s kinda like Scarface in that regard.
Now, the biggest question I find myself asking is whether or not I would have liked it in 1998, and honestly yeah – I would have. But I fear it would have been for the wrong reasons. Yeah the film is insanely quotable and John Turturro alone is enough to take a casual movie watcher and make him or her elevate this thing to “OMGAWESOME,” but none of what the Brothers Coen were trying to say would have had any effect on me. I would have walked away having a few more quotes under my belt to throw out when I wanted to make people laugh knowingly but I wouldn’t have appreciated it.
So, I guess this is a party to which I’m grateful I was late, otherwise I would have coasted by saying “Yeah, I saw that,” but at the end of the day I probably would have ended up being part of the problem I mentioned earlier and would have been oblivious to the fact that I had become one of the people that the Coens seem to resent so much in their films.
And it’s not a resentment that is undeserved.