COSTA MESA — Where else could the Lebowski Fest have started but in a bowling alley?
The movement that hero worships His Dudeness and All Things Dude took root 10 years ago, not in the Golden State but in the Bluegrass State.
In October 2001, Lebowski Fest co-founder Scott Schuffitt invited his former classmate and longtime friend, Bill Green, to a bowling party in their hometown of Louisville, Ky. It was themed around "The Big Lebowski," the 1998 cult-classic comedy by the Coen Brothers. Green was both an avid bowler and a fan of the Coens' films.
Schuffitt expected 40 to 50 people to show up at his party that night, but 150 came. Realizing he had tapped into a potential cultlike following around the bearded figurehead of the film's slacker hero, Jeff Lebowski (aka "The Dude," played by Jeff Bridges), Schuffitt then asked his friend to design a poster for what became the inaugural Lebowski Fest.
Since then, Green hasn't stopped creating posters for his friend's festivals. The phenomenon has spread from Louisville to other American cities, including Los Angeles, where the film takes place. The festivals are two-night affairs that include a screening of the film followed by a bowling party — not to mention the drinking of many White Russians.
On Monday, Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa opened an exhibition of 40 official Lebowski Fest posters designed by Green, a Los Angeles artist, during the festival's first decade of existence.
The "Across the Sands of Time" show will continue through Nov. 10, and follows on the heels of a separate Lebowski-themed art show in the campus' Frank M. Doyle Arts Pavilion. The other show ended on Oct. 28 and featured large paintings by Joe Forkan of scenes from the film.
"Of course, I did not intend to commit the next 10 years of my work to it …," Green said at Monday night's opening in the Student Project Space at OCC. "It's a job, first and foremost, but it's also fun. I could have been designing posters for who knows what, but it just so happens to coincide with my love of bowling and my love of Coen Brothers' [movies]."
OCC's Hillel organization, a Jewish campus group, is sponsoring Green's show because the film has some Jewish elements. The Dude's sidekick, Walter Sobchak (played by John Goodman), is a converted Jew thanks to his ex-wife — though The Dude insists Sobchak isn't "even [expletive] Jewish, man!" but rather just another Polish Catholic.
Still, the foul-mouthed, antagonistic, angst-ridden, gun-toting Vietnam War vet devoutly observes the rituals of Judaism — which has "3,000 years of beautiful tradition, from Moses to Sandy Koufax," he says — to the point that on the Sabbath he does not bowl, handle money or "turn on the oven."
Bruce Derflinger, a part-time computer science instructor at OCC and faculty advisor to the club, said its members had spent the better part of two years trying to bring a Lebowski-themed show to campus. In September, one of the group's representatives went to L.A. to meet Green at a Lebowski Fest there and invited him to show his posters at OCC. Green agreed, and the posters arrived on campus last week.
Green said OCC's show marks the first time he's publicly displaying his Lebowski poster work outside of the festival's confines.
Viewers can see posters depicting the film's most memorable characters, along with a supporting cast such as purple jumpsuit-clad Jesus Quintana (John Turturro).
In some cases, Green has added his own twist to the development of the characters. For example, there is "The Duda" poster showing The Dude seated in a Buddha-like meditation pose.
James Hoosier, a San Pedro resident who had a nonspeaking role as Liam O'Brien, Quintana's bowling partner, was at Monday's opening. The longtime bowler said he had never acted professionally and was cast for the part after replying to a casting ad, which had been left at a bowling alley in Torrance. Hoosier, a retired security guard, has since appeared at many of the Lebowski Fests, where he's something of a celebrity.
"At the festivals it's mayhem," Hoosier said. "They don't even call me by my name. They call me 'Liam.'"
For those readers who aren't familiar with the plot — which the Coens loosely founded on Raymond Chandler's hard-boiled detective classic, "The Big Sleep" — "The Big Lebowski" tells the story of how Jeff Lebowski becomes entangled in some nasty business after being mistaken for another man with the same name.
The film opens with a scene in which two hoodlums burst into The Dude's apartment, though they soon find out this dude is not the wealthy Jeffrey Lebowski they're looking for. Still, they rough him up and one of them pees on his rug. His Dudeness then goes on a quest to seek compensation from the other Jeffrey Lebowski for the soiled rug, which he says "really tied the room together."
Here's an oft-cited snippet of dialogue from the film, which is unlike most of the verbal exchanges in "The Big Lebowski" in that it contains no profane or off-color language:
The Big Lebowski: "Are you employed, Mr. Lebowski?"
The Dude: 'Wait, wait, let me explain something to you. I am not Mr. Lebowski. You're Mr. Lebowski. I am The Dude, so that's what you call me, you know? That or His Dudeness, or Duder, or, you know, El Duderino, if you're not into the whole brevity thing."
Foul language and drinking fuel scenes in "The Big Lebowski" but, according to Schuffitt, cussing and consumption of alcohol was banned at the Louisville bowling alley where the festival movement all started.
A church group owned and operated the Fellowship Lanes. It was an establishment situated between a strip club and a trailer park, Schuffitt said in a phone interview from Kentucky.
His love of all things Lebowski stemmed from a videotape of the film, which, he said, never seemed to leave his VCR machine — back in the days when VHS and VCR still existed. He got to know the film so well that he could recite some of the film's zingers verbatim.
"It just stayed in my VCR for who knows how long," Schuffitt recalled.
If You Go
What: "Across the Sands of Time," an exhibit of 40 Lebowski Fest posters designed by Bill Green
Where: Through Nov. 10 at the Student Project Space, 1st Floor of the Art Center at Orange Coast College, 2701 Fairview Road, Costa Mesa
When: Gallery is open to the public from 8:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and by appointment on Fridays
More information: Appointments can be made by calling OCC's Visual and Performing Arts Division office at (714) 432-5076