Letter from Dallis contributed by Dallis Radamaker
Recently the 20th anniversary of the release of “The Big Lebowski” was celebrated. In honor of this important milestone in world history, cinema owners across Holland, where I live, declared May 14, 2018 “Dude Day” and arranged special one-time showings in practically every movie theater in the country. Many people showed up wearing ratty bathrobes distressed to resemble the Dude’s favorite garment and were able to order “White Russians” at the bar. [Yes, movie theatres have bars in them. This is civilization over here!]
We went to see it and that’s why I’m so happy today.
I think I know why I love all of Joel and Ethan Coen’s films so much. Aside from the fact they are filmic geniuses, it’s because they love their subject matter so much, which is always the gaudy, kaleidoscopic murderous anarchy of American life as this intersects with Hollywood’s always failed but very often hilariously failed attempts to get it all on film, to somehow preserve some of those ephemeral tears and laughter for posterity. And the brothers are so deeply and fundamentally decent, that their decency is invincibly courageous and self-confident. That is the secret of the enduring popularity, for example, of “Fargo” where, when Frances McDormand sees her small town — where she is the only cop, and female, and pregnant, and on the skinny side — invaded by bloodthirsty monsters of crime and perversion — she never quails an instant — but just steadfastly follows standard procedures to find out who are the source of all the trouble, arrest them and lock them up safely (unless they have been so foolish as to force her to eliminate them in hand-to-hand combat) much to their surprise, but not to hers or to ours really. So much confidence is contagious. And anyway, we’ve seen it all before. Hollywood has always been the place where the good guys won. We gather together before the silver screen to celebrate the hope, which must last as long as life, no matter how forlorn, that there may be happy endings in the real world too.
But back to Lebowski. Who is he? Why have two of the most clever, meticulous, productive, hard-working and successful writer/directors the movie world has ever seen, created this huge, lazy, loveable, alcohol-soaked and drug-addled good-for-nothing and his little constellation of similarly wacko bowling-buddies — all characters to describe whom the word “Loser” might have been invented- and cast them in the role of Humphrey Bogart/Philip Marlowe in “The Big Sleep”? It’s simple. They are just eliminating the middle man to increase the joy of those left in the deal. Instead of you or me lying drunk on our living room sofas wearing bathrobes that should have gone into the wash some days ago, blearily watching Bogart seduce all the beautiful women and make short work of the bad guys, and just imagining that we are Bogart, Joel and Ethan introduce us into the action direct. The Dude and his hopeless, helpless loser friends are dropped right into the dream factory proceedings without first having to re-imagine themselves as Hollywood romantic adventure heroes — which for most of us can be quite a stretch, and must be difficult on some days even for such titans as Joel and Ethan Coen.
The result of this unlikely juxtaposition is pretty damn funny, as I’m sure you will recall if you have seen the film as often as you should have done by now. It’s been out there for twenty years already. Go find an old DVD somewhere. Don’t let another twenty years go by without giving yourself this pleasure.