The Big Lebowski at 20: Jeff Bridges, John Goodman & Steve Buscemi Reunite to Discuss the Coen Brothers’ Beloved Film

The Big Lebows­ki came out 20 years ago. State­ments of that kind are often pre­ced­ed by the ques­tion of whether you want to feel old, but this one would­n’t have quite the same effect: on some lev­el, The Big Lebows­ki feels as old as, or maybe even old­er than, cin­e­ma itself. In their half-hour con­ver­sa­tion look­ing back at the film and its lega­cy, NBC’s Har­ry Smith asks actors John Good­man, Steve Busce­mi, and Jeff Bridges, bet­ter known to the movie’s legions of fans as Wal­ter Sobchak, Don­ny Ker­abat­sos, and of course Jeff Lebows­ki — also known as His Dude­ness, Dud­er, El Dud­eri­no if you’re not into the whole brevi­ty thing, but above all as the Dude — whether it felt like 20 years have passed. More than one of them come right back with just the right response: “It does and does­n’t.”

The con­ver­sa­tion touch­es on such sub­jects as what they first thought of the script (“Right on the page, it felt like it was impro­vi­sa­tion,” says Bridges), the spir­i­tu­al impli­ca­tions of the sto­ry and char­ac­ters (Bridges tells of the encounter with a Bud­dhist teacher that led to the book The Dude and the Zen Mas­ter in 2013), how many “F‑bombs” the final prod­uct end­ed up con­tain­ing (275), and what usu­al­ly hap­pens in the still extreme­ly com­mon event of an encounter with a Lebows­ki fan on the street.

All three actors evince great plea­sure at the oppor­tu­ni­ty to remem­ber work­ing with Joel and Ethan Coen on what would become the direct­ing broth­ers’ most beloved film, one that has inspired its own fes­ti­val, its own reli­gion, and much more besides. But as many of the movie’s cur­rent enthu­si­asts (per­haps due to their youth, per­haps due to their indul­gence in mem­o­ry-cloud­ing sub­stances) won’t remem­ber, The Big Lebows­ki did­n’t become a phe­nom­e­non right away.

“So you make a movie like this, you love the script, you love work­ing togeth­er,” as Smith puts it, “and then nobody goes to see it.” Indeed, the moviego­ing pub­lic of 1998 did­n’t quite know what to make of the fact that, as a fol­low-up to the Acad­e­my Award-win­ning Far­go, the Coen broth­ers served up what Good­man describes as “Philip Mar­lowe meets The Trip.” As Busce­mi remem­bers, “it took like five or six years before peo­ple start­ed com­ing up to me and say­ing that they loved it.” Then came the col­lege kids, who would tell him not just that they loved it, but that they’d seen it eight, nine, ten times. The first time peo­ple saw The Big Lebows­ki they came out in bewil­der­ment ask­ing what it means, but “what the movie does so bril­liant­ly is, once you know what it is, then you real­ly enjoy, like, every moment of it.”

Among the few view­ers attuned enough to its fre­quen­cy to enjoy it right away was Roger Ebert: “Some may com­plain The Big Lebows­ki rush­es in all direc­tions and nev­er ends up any­where,” he wrote in his ini­tial review. “That isn’t the film’s flaw, but its style.” But even his appre­ci­a­tion grew over time, and in 2010 he anoint­ed it one of his offi­cial Great Movies, describ­ing it as involv­ing “kid­nap­ping, ran­som mon­ey, a porno king, a reclu­sive mil­lion­aire, a run­away girl, the Mal­ibu police, a woman who paints while nude and strapped to an over­head har­ness, and the last act of the dis­agree­ment between Viet­nam vet­er­ans and Flower Pow­er,” all held togeth­er by “a plot and dia­logue that per­haps only the Coen broth­ers could have devised.” Hence Bridges’ wor­ries about get­ting the music of the script down cold before shoot­ing: “Did I get the ‘man’ in the right place? Did I add anoth­er F‑bomb?”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Is The Big Lebows­ki a Great Noir Film? A New Way to Look at the Coen Broth­ers’ Icon­ic Movie

What Makes a Coen Broth­ers Movie a Coen Broth­ers Movie? Find Out in a 4‑Hour Video Essay of Bar­ton Fink, The Big Lebows­ki, Far­go, No Coun­try for Old Men & More

The Big Lebows­ki Reimag­ined as a Clas­sic 8‑Bit Video Game

Tui­leries: The Coen Broth­ers’ Short Film About Steve Buscemi’s Very Bad Day in the Paris Metro

The City in Cin­e­ma Mini-Doc­u­men­taries Reveal the Los Ange­les of Blade Run­ner, Her, Dri­ve, Repo Man, and More

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

by | Permalink | Comments (2) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.