The Big Lebowski came and went in the Spring of 1998. The movie was a flop—in its theatrical run, it made a measly $17.5 million. Even with a slew of positive reviews, the Coen's madcap comedic noir never managed to click with audiences.
That is, until it magically did.
13 years later, The Big Lebowski is the defintiion of a cult classic; discovered on DVD by audiences young and old who found themselves won over by the movie's bizarre cast of characters, perverse quotability and zen sensibilities. The real world ramifications of Lebowski's popularity are plentiful—would anyone ever be hankering for a White Russian if it wasn't The Dude's signature drink?—and the love for the film only continues to grow. You know the low-budget comedy carved out its place in pop culture when they started holding an annual festival in its honor, complete with Lebowski-themed costumes and bowling.
LebowskiFest has been in full swing for ten years—and the fandom isn't slowing down. To commemorate the release of the upcoming Blu-ray, the festival's organizers amassed fans across New York City for a two-night Lebowski celebration that culminated with a night at the Hammerstein Ballroom for a special Q&A with the original cast and screening of the film.
I was on hand last night for the mayhem, where a sea of rowdy fans, decked out in sweaters, jelly shoes, Yellow-lens aviator glasses and bright purple jump suits, filled one of NYC biggest concert halls to see The Dude and company in person. Don't think this was a quiet, introspective sit down with the original cast—anything but. When Jeff Bridges, Julianne Moore, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, John Turturro and legendary musician T Bone Burnett (music archivist on the film) took the stage, the crowd was relentless. Rapid-fire quotes, high praise and giddiness bombarded the scene, whether that meant the actors got a word in or not.
There were a few choice moments from the talk back: Bridges, always a crowd-pleaser, kicked off the evening by gazing wide-eyed at the rambunctious audience and declaring, "It's like a Rick Perry press conference." The cast members' faces said it all. Lebowski was never the movie they imagined taking off the way it did, which made reminiscing difficult. Thankfully, the discussion steered quickly towards the film's cult status. Regarding the fandom surrounding Lebowski, Turturro mentioned that he, "gets lots of sex mail" for his sexually-charged character "The Jesus." He broke it to the other cast bluntly: "Sometimes you guys are involved."
While the Q&A meandered with vague recollections of what it was like to work on the set (the short of it: no one can remember), John Goodman was able to wax poetically on his character Walter Sobchack. When asked what Walter would be like today, Goodman cracked, "He's still Jewish. Jew-ish." The actor also had the best response to cautious sequel talk: "It's never going to happen, why waste time thinking about it?"
But the real star of the night was Steve Buscemi a.k.a. Donny, who walked on stage to a unison "Shut the f*ck up, Donny!" from the audience. One of the few times where swearing at an esteemed actor is an acceptable form of praise. While the rest the cast shared a few short (but fond) memories of working on the movie, Buscemi had the most to add. Here are his five best quotes that helped tie the perfect knot on the evening:
On originally being asked to play Donny: "I didn't want to play the part. I don't know anyone who would." Thunderous applause.
On the lively crowd, who spent the 40-minute Q&A yelling at him from their seats: "I haven't smoked pot in 20 years...but I feel stoned right now"
On playing Donny: "I had the easy part…I said one thing, [John Goodman] tells me to shut up, and that's it."
On working with the Coen Bros. again:"I can't believe they killed Donny. After being put in a wood chipper…" A wonderful Fargo reference!
And finally, when Buscemi wrapped on the film, he received one of Donny's bowling balls, which he asked everyone in the cast to sign. Apparently, actor Sam Elliot awkwardly responded to the request with: "I don't…usually…do this…" OK then.
Buscemi realized mentioning the priceless memento may have been a mistake. He told the audience, "Great, now you're going to break into my home." The crowd went wild, because frankly, they will probably try and break into his home and steal it. Lebowski fans are hardcore.
The Big Lebowski is now out on Blu-ray. Thanks to the folks at LebowskiFest for putting the event together!