There were bowling pins, bathrobes, white Russians, and even The Dude himself.
Jeff Bridges and his band performed Friday at Lebowski Fest, but Joel and Ethan Coen’s 1998 campy crime comedy The Big Lebowski was still the night’s biggest star.
Fans of the Raymond Chandler-flavored film filled the Wiltern Theater in midtown Los Angeles to capacity for the annual celebration of the cult classic, which has been staged around the country since 2002. The two-day festival continues Saturday with a costumed bowling party.
“It’s the people here that are so awesome,” said Steve Lewis, a veteran of seven Lebowski Fests. “It’s a community.”
The 37-year-old made his own Army dog tags to meticulously recreate one of John Goodman’s costumes from the film. Lewis traveled to festivals in New York and Louisville with his friend J.D. Lloyd, who searched eBay to find the exact sweater Bridges wears in the film. (“That’s a real Pendleton,” Lewis said. “That was expensive.”) Lloyd has been to 11 Lebowski Fests and estimates he’s seen the film more than 100 times.
Matt Goforth, a bartender working the event in costume, said he’d been looking forward to the shift for six months.
“First of all, I knew it was going to be a good crowd. Second of all, it’s a fantastic movie. Thirdly, Jeff Bridges’ band is amazing,” Goforth said. “It’s fun. I’ve had my picture taken maybe 35 times. It’s just a great atmosphere.”
The Wiltern Theater was decorated with inflatable bowling pins and the drink menu featured White Russians — renamed Wiltern Caucasians, perhaps in political protest — “made with Ralphs half-and-half.” The film opens with The Dude writing a check for 69 cents to buy half-and-half from a Ralphs supermarket to make his favorite cocktail.
Minor stars from the film signed autographs in the lobby before appearing onstage. Among them was Luis Colina, a film editor who said he was working on the Coen brothers’ 1994 film The Hudsucker Proxy when they decided to write him into Lebowski. Colina plays the angry Corvette owner who threatens to “kill” The Dude’s car.
Bridges and his band performed a 30-minute set that included songs from Crazy Heart, the 2009 film for which he won the best actor Oscar. Kyle Gass, the other half of Jack Black’s band, Tenacious D, opened the evening by singing tunes from The Big Lebowski.
But fans were most rapt by the movie they’d all seen before. The night culminated with a screening, during which they shouted out some lines and applauded for others.
For Kim Hudson, who came across the movie by accident during a hung-over morning with her husband, Lebowski Fest is a chance to dress up and have fun with fellow fans. The 57-year-old wore a giant homemade hat that looked like a spread of bowling pins. A graphic artist helped her print the image onto foam board, which she hot-glued to a boy’s bicycle helmet.
When asked how many times she’s seen the film, she responded, “Drunk or sober?”
Connor Linnerooth traveled from North Dakota to celebrate his 20th birthday at Lebowski Fest. He wore a red bodysuit and carried oversized scissors like the Nihilist character that terrorizes The Dude in his dreams. Linnerooth even spoke in the character’s accent during an interview.
“Lebowski, he is a very cool guy,” he said. “I love the movie and I’m a big fan of it, and I really wanted to be around other people who are also big fans of the movie.”
So what is it about this film that draws such a devoted following?
Mike Sullivan, a four-time festival-goer who says he’s memorized the movie, has an idea.
“What you got here,” he said, “is a bunch of pot-smoking hippies having a good time.”