All The Young Dudes

WRITTEN BY
Dave Alexander

Nihilists, pederasts, and stoned bowlers come together tocelebrate The Big Lebowski

It'sa Friday evening in February, and a crowd of 700 has assembled at LasVegas' Sunset Lanes to drink, shout profanities, and dress up as ajumpsuited child molester named Jesus. But this isn't just anothernight out in Sin City-it's a gathering of film fans devoted to The Big Lebowski.

Though the 1998 film wasn't a box-office smash, the Coenbrothers' breezy comedy about the misadventures of an over-the-hillhippie who calls himself the Dude was a transcendental experience forScott Shuffitt and Will Russell of Louisville, Kentucky. "The Dude is acharacter I can relate to," says Shuffitt, 31. "He's just an everydayaverage Joe. He's out there, doing his thing, and he comes into somehardships."

With a few photocopied flyers and a website (www.lebowksifest.com), the pair attracted 150 enthusiasts to an inaugural Lebowskiconvention in Louisville in 2002. A second event in 2003 proved sosuccessful that it spawned this weekend's Lebowski Fest West, as wellas a third Louisville gathering, scheduled for June. "We just came upwith the idea, man. It's kind of a combined snowball effect," saysRussell, 27, as attendees arrive to slurp down White Russians, snap uphomemade T-shirts, and scream their favorite bits of dialogue during ascreening of the film.

The main attraction on opening night, however, is actor James Hoosier, who had a minor role in Lebowskias one of the Dude's bowling rivals. "For such a small part, this iscrazy," he says after receiving a standing ovation. The star of thesecond evening of revelry is Hollywood veteran Jeff Dowd, theinspiration for the film's terminally laid-back protagonist. "Joel andEthan [Coen], they kinda laid a nice little present on me," chucklesthe 54-year-old movie promoter as he brushes crumbs off his fadedHawaiian shirt. "The Dude is this really likable character, sovirtually anywhere I go, I get this very nice sunshine glow."

Beneath all the booze and bowling, the festival is really acelebration of a movie with more resonance than its original audiencegave it credit for-or its directors ever intended it to possess."Living in the Midwest," says Shuffitt, "it's nice to sit down on areally crappy day and watch a film shot in L.A., where the sky isblue." As a man dressed as Dowd's fictional namesake sprints by, chasedby another man holding a pair of giant cardboard scissors, Dowd givesthe Lebowski Fest attendees his blessing. "They're a cut aboveTrekkies," he says.

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