By Steve Persall
Times Film Critic
None of this would happen if that Chinaman — not the preferred nomenclature, of course — hadn't peed on the Dude's rug, the one that really tied the room together.
The Dude wouldn't know there's another Jeffrey Lebowski in L.A., with a missing trophy wife owing money to a pornographer who "treats objects like women." And a movie about the Dude's stoned misadventures trying to find her wouldn't inspire one of the funniest film cults ever.
If you haven't seen Joel and Ethan Coen's hilarious 1998 hippie noir The Big Lebowski, you're living in a world of pain, my friend, a world of pain.
The rest of us are Achievers, loyal fans named after the rich Lebowski's kids charity slush fund. You know us by our compulsion to work the Coens' loopy dialogue into everyday conversation (or writing) and to occasionally disguise ourselves as even the most obscure elements of the script.
Maybe you've heard of our semiregular gatherings over the past decade at dozens of Lebowski Fests nationwide, where all things Dude — costumes, bowling, White Russians and what-have-you — are gloriously displayed. I've attended two: in Los Angeles where the Dude himself, Jeff Bridges, showed up, and last year's first-ever Florida gig in Orlando.
"We wanted to come down to Florida for a while, getting a lot of requests from Achievers down there," co-founder Will Russell said by telephone from Louisville, Ky., where the abiding began as a semiprivate joke in 2002. Since then, Lebowski Fests drifted like tumbleweeds from New York to Seattle and points between, making friends out of strangers along the way.
"We decided to go to Orlando, which was awesome, but … even people from Orlando were telling us to do Tampa, saying it's more of a Dude-friendly, Lebowski Fest kind of town."
And proud we are of all of that.
But we realize there still are amateurs out there, who don't know the ins and outs, the strands to keep in their heads, man.
That's cool. Lebowski Fest is everyone's opportunity to achieve, to gawk at those who already have and don't mind showing it, dressed (and cross-dressed) as … well, anything seen, heard or scantly referenced in The Big Lebowski.
"The costumes really bring the party, the energy," Russell said. "It turns the crowd into the star of the event."
Impersonating central characters — Dude, the edgy Vietnam vet Walter, mysterious Maude or the flamboyant bowler Jesus — is the obvious choice. True Achievers recognize and admire those who come as a Nihilist chick's severed toe, a Creedence Clearwater Revival 8-track or a schoolteacher whose only reference in the movie is a split-second glimpse of her name on a student's homework.
One of Russell's favorite costumes was created by an Achiever who literalized Walter's threat to a bowling league cheater — "You're entering a world of pain" — with a metal globe he sat inside with a mechanized toy hammer tapping his head.
"It was so big that we had to take the doors off the hinges of the bowling center to get it inside," Russell said. "You can take any little part of that movie and people will get it.
"Just keep your mind limber."
Steve Persall can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8365.