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You’ve got to be kidding me, but that’s the story Jeff Bridges recounts in a new documentary that will air on American Masters on January 12 (check your listings) about the cult classic, The Big Lebowski. Jeff Bridges almost said, “no,” to the role he is now most famous for, that of the Jeffrey Lebowski, The Dude. The directing Coen Brothers (now getting high praise for their remake of True Grit with Bridges) had approached the actor about a project that was tailored just for him. But when he saw the script, Bridges had other ideas. A long-time Buddhist–and dope smoker–Bridges was concerned that his daughters would think that the character was actually him. Or, that they would get flack from others about their father playing essentially an over-aged slacker dude who sucked on White Russian cocktails, smoked doobies in the bathtub, and bowled.
I knew Jeff Bridges was happily married and was a daddy, but I never thought he could be that fastidious. Or rather, scared. I mean, he was a long way from 1971’s The Last Picture Show, a film that I find, in retrospect, hauntingly sad and beautiful. That flick made him and Timothy Bottoms. There is no way we would not watch him and not get any enjoyment from his roles, from Starman to Rancho Deluxe to The Mirror Has Two Faces. And in fact, he needn’t have been scared or even bothered enough to stop smoking weed mid-way through making Lebowski as it has been reported.
Jeff Bridges is more than just a fine actor. Only his friends and family members really know him.
It seems though, that Bridges probably didn’t relish the gently-polished mirror that was being held up to him in the guise of the Coens’ script. So I think that he has edged a bit away from the reflection. In fact, from the comments I gathered from fans on HuffPo, they know that he’s both Jeff Bridges and The Dude, equal portions of the same guy.
I came late to The Big Lebowski, which was released in 1998. First, I was wondering what the fuss was all about. The film was panned every which way. Then I heard that the Coens may have mainlined one of my favorite–but weird–film noir Bogart films, The Big Sleep, thus updating the storyline, and this intrigued me. As the years went by, I heard about its DVD popularity, and then the one-night only showings that drew and turned away hundreds.
Finally, my former downstairs neighbors–who now live in Green Bay–gave me their copy of the flick while they went on vacation for one week.
Result: I laughed my ass off.
Because Bridges’ portrayal reminded me of the hilarious counterculture comedians during the late Sixties and early Seventies that I enjoyed, but this cat was farther along the pike age-wise. He wasn’t dead, he hadn’t sold out, and he was still devoted to keeping it real, so to speak. Who were those guys? George Carlin, Cheech and Chong, The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers (who weren’t real, but were cartoons of actual guys who were small-time dope dealers and hipsters, or thought that they were). They’ve been updated to their latest manifestations, Jay and Silent Bob, and Bill and Ted of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.
And there is something about white stoners/hipsters that makes me laugh. Black ones of any stripe, in contrast, make me thoroughly watchful and observant, and one doesn’t dare laugh. Much of their ethos is based on things like respect, manhood, drugs, the atmosphere of clubs and bars, and the promise of underlying violence, especially towards women. This is what attracted the likes of Norman Mailer.
However, white hipsters who are staking out their own game or imitating black guys in the game seem to be working too hard to be taken seriously or are just too relaxed to be taken seriously. (Leave some Italian American guys out of this mix.) Few, if ever, have found their “happy” medium, whatever that is, between danger and coolness. It doesn’t mean that they are safer and nicer creatures, though. The Dude, though, belongs in this nether region of being too relaxed–and being more concerned with his self-preservation.
Like Carlin et al., The Dude seemed to encounter trouble wherever he went and no matter how many doobies he smoked or how many Caucasians he sipped. That wasn’t his fault. And The Dude was above it all; he was mellow and not looking for much but making his own way in and trying to make sense of the world, but trouble is always around the corner for him. It doesn’t matter if he’s delivering ransom money or answering personal questions from a randy and rich avant-garde artist. He doesn’t make trouble.
Well, I am going to make sure that I can’t work retail that night so that I can watch this documentary.
And let me say this, a White Russian certainly is a powerfully good cocktail. The character certainly possesses some kind of class. Cheers, Dude. Thanks, Jeff Bridges.