The Big Lebowski is a cult movie phenomenon from writer/directors the Coen Brothers. This bowling-fueled, counter-culture classic is still rolling twenty years on from the moment audiences were introduced to Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski (Jeff Bridges), Walter Sobchak (John Goodman), Donny Kerabatsos (Steve Buscemi) and the Jesus himself, Jesus Quintana (John Turturro).
It missed the box office pins at its first throw. But once viewers caught on to its mix of burned-out characters, warped mystery and slapstick comedy, its future was assured. Other films have fans. Lebowski goes one better. It has its own religion.
“Dudeism” is a belief system based on the central persona of “The Dude.” He was so laid back he needed a rug to lie on. A rug that really tied the room together. When that rug was stolen it set him off on a crazy adventure that is watched, rewatched and quoted to this day.
Anyway, the rug is not the issue here! A special guest at 2018’s Lebowski Fest (a convention which began way back in 2002) was Jeff Dowd. This other Jeff isn’t a regular type of guest. He doesn’t need to dress up as The Dude. That’s because he is The Dude.
Dowd is the force of nature who tied The Big Lebowski together. A friend of Joel and Ethan Coen, he recognized their potential when watching their debut feature Blood Simple in the 1980s. He was in a position to help them too, as one of the founding members of the Sundance Film Festival, not to mention a movie marketing expert.
They returned the favor by structuring a Raymond Chandler-style narrative around Dowd’s spaced-out character. His actual surname is “Duda,” which is Irish Gaelic, and became “Dude” from an early age.
Uproxx caught up with Dowd in 2016 to tell his story. Ethan Coen is quoted as saying:
“It just seemed interesting to us to thrust that character into the most confusing situation possible. The person who would seem – on the face of it – least equipped to deal with it. That’s sort of the conceit of the movie.”
Dowd himself comes across as pretty incoherent, yet his track record speaks for itself. He marketed major releases such as Chariots Of Fire and The Blair Witch Project. So he certainly doesn’t need to find a cash machine.
This shambling figure resembles Bridges’ ace slacker in many ways, despite the actor famously dressing himself from his own wardrobe for the part. He enjoys a White Russian or two. To the uninitiated, that’s a combination of vodka, coffee liqueur and milk over ice. As told to Uproxx, he feels the Coens captured his approach to life perfectly through the big screen take.
“The way he dances, the way he sits, the way he mumbles, y’know etc… Then they’re gonna take other things, things at my expense or the Dude’s expense okay? So he’s smokin’ a joint in the car, drops the roach, starts goin’ like this (slapping at lap) and then crashes the car. That’s Dude all the way.”
Bridges’ unlikely Brother Seamus (no that’s not an Irish monk) boasted of former triumphs in the field of political activism. In one scene a post-coital Lebowski asks conceptual artist Maude: “You ever hear of the Seattle Seven? That was me… and those six other guys.”
Jeff Dowd was an actual member of the Seattle Liberation Front protesting the Vietnam War. Who knows what the Dude’s veteran buddy Walter would have made of that. The Nazis in his real world didn’t lose their ears, though Dowd did unfurl a Nazi flag during his trial, branding his accuser a “Good German,” or fascist facilitator.
Dowd is a strange role model. However, he has managed to achieve a double legacy. The one that inspires filmmakers through his work in production, and the one concerning his fictional self that will seemingly live on forever.
In closing I’d like to say that if anyone finds those Creedence tapes, lost somewhere near the In-N-Out Burger, you can mail them to… ah whatever dude let’s just go bowling.
Steve Palace is a writer, journalist and comedian from the UK. Sites he contributes to include The Vintage News, Art Knews Magazine and The Hollywood News. His short fiction has been published as part of the Iris Wildthyme range from Obverse Books.