How Lebowski Fest got Big

The soiree got hopping some time after sundown. The White Russians were flowing; Creedence was blaring.

It was my job to answer the door. Wearing thrift store stilettos and a cheap white nightie, I intoned, "You must be here to fix the cable" to all who arrived. Many were bathrobe-clad.

The more savvy of the bunch would retort with "That is why they sent me, I am an expert" in German accents.

For those who are privy, it's obvious that the aforementioned events occurred during a Big Lebowski party. I was clearly dressed as Bunny (there is nothing blonde about me, but female character options are sparse here). I greeted at least two Walters, three Maudes, countless Dudes and a Jesus or two.

It was as though we had our own dialect. The script for The Big Lebowski is constantly running in my head, and among other Lebowski infatuates I felt at ease dropping quotes as I pleased — not something I can really do in the button-down day-to-day (try saying "This aggression will not stand, man!" to your editor).

This week's Lebowski Fest seems an ecstatic mass-scale version of the Dude-centric house party. Several Lebowski Fests take place throughout the nation each year.

And the fact that it has finally come to Tampa suggests a cultural groundswell.

Sure, we can get events like the 2012 Republican National Convention (during which I assume a few BL fans will be occupying various administration buildings) and a couple of Super Bowls.

But an event appealing only to those with a certain sense of humor?

Maybe, just maybe, it means this often traffic-strangled, crassly corporate metro region may actually be, well, cool.

There is something intangible about The Big Lebowski that sets it apart. For one thing, it's extremely cerebral; the film has been the subject of academic papers, and writer Adam Bertocci even came up with Two Gentlemen of Lebowski, which spins the script into Shakespearean prose (think, "Sir Donald, thou art out of thy element" and "is this thy parchment, Lawrence?").

But there's some well-done slapstick thrown in, too. What other film dares feature a 275-pound Nam vet who uses the word "strumpet"?

Two fans from Louisville, Ky., dreamed up the original Lebowski Fest. Will Russell and Scott Shuffitt say it all started one boring Saturday afternoon in 2002. With nothing else to do, they decided to sell T-shirts at a tattoo festival, where they began quoting lines from the movie. Noticing how many people started chiming in, they figured they could organize an event around a mutual love of the Coen Brothers classic.

"I am amazed that this thing is still going," fest co-founder Russell said. "It is basically the same basic formula as it was when we first started. Gather like-minded fans together in a bowling alley. Add white Russians and stir."

The Tampa edition, which takes place over two days, comes courtesy of local promotion gurus Brokenmold. The first night's event at the Ritz Ybor features music by Have Gun, Will Travel (they do a mean cover of Dylan's "The Man In Me," which plays during the opening credits) and The Lambasters (Nervous Turkey's Ernie Locke), and Saturday's shindig takes place in appropriate fashion at University Lanes bowling alley in Tampa.

Attendees typically don getups inspired by the film. They go beyond the standard Walter, Maude, Dude, Bunny et al; some people dress as lines from the flick. Lines, as in "three thousand years of beautiful tradition from Moses to Sandy Koufax," "face down in Nam" and "the fuckin' Eagles."

The fact that the Lebowski Fest organizers see fit to touch down in Tampa suggests that there are enough funny, smart people around who'll not only buy tickets, but can figure out how to cobble together a "tenets of national socialism" costume.

If you don't agree, well, that's just, like, your opinion, man.

Note: Director Jeff Feuerzeig (The Devil and Daniel Johnston) will be at Lebowski Fest, Tampa, both days to film a documentary about Jeff Dowd. Needed are "Achievers" who will be dressed as Lebowski characters. Those interested should e-mail their contact info, what costume they are planning to wear, a photo and favorite quote from The Big Lebowski to [email protected].

Julie Garisto contributed to this report.


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