The Dude Abides
The Carolina Theatre is nearly filled to capacity. The majority of the crowd is composed of average moviegoers but a few strange costumed characters are sprinkled throughout the seats.
Tonight is a celebration of The Big Lebowski. The Coen Brother’s film didn’t enjoy much success upon its release in the late ’90s but its cult status is obvious with Lebowski fests taking place in cities across the country. This event, though not an official Lebowski Fest, is the only one of its kind in North Carolina. Mixed Tape Film Series programmer Joe Scott, WUAG General Manager Jack Bonney and the owner of the theater take the stage encouraging the oddball attendees within the crowd to come up for a costume contest. The audience gets to decide between costumed versions of the Dude, Walter, Jesus and a Jesus fan via round of applause. In the end Jesus prevails and walks away with a $30 gift certificate to Rockola Caf’ and a pair of tickets to the Carolina Theatre. When asked what he does for a living the Jesus character responds with “8-year-olds.” Jesus is actually Mike Henning, a UNCG student and waiter at Bonefish Grill in Winston-Salem. Henning, a dedicated fan of the film, created the costume for Halloween last year and had to dye a track suit and spray-paint loafers to achieve the bright purple coloring of the memorable Jesus character. To complete the look Henning drew on a mustache and goatee, attached a fake pinky nail to his left hand and wore a hair net. “The Jesus is just a great secondary character,” Henning said, “He brings a lot of strength to the film. I have seen The Big Lebowski more than any other movie and it was very exciting to get to see it in the 35mm format tonight,” The two attendees competing as Walter tie for second place and split a Spring Garden Bakery gift certificate and tickets to the Carolina Theatre. Brandon Creason, a manager and bartender at Finnigan’s Wake, is one of the Walters who gets to take home the second place prize. He arrived tonight in costume without knowing about the costume contest. He too composed the costume for Halloween last year. He says he spent $120 to create it, he even has custommade dog tags sporting Walter’s name. He says he discovered The Big Lebowski by the time it hit VHS and hadn’t realized it was a Coen Brothers movie at first. “It’s a great movie and everybody should watch it,” Creason said. “It’s not Star Wars but it’s a great movie for the geek generation.” Before the screening, I have expectations of organized crowd participation coinciding with events in the film like you see with viewings of movies like Rocky Horror Picture Show but other than unified laughter there is no crowd reaction. As the movie draws to a close and the theater lights up once more, they file into the aisles and make their way out. The evening is far from over however as the festivities are now moving to Brunswick Triad Lanes. Each blacklight-lit lane of the bowling alley is full. Amidst the sound of bowling bowls cracking against pins, soul music booms from the DJ booth at the back of the room. Bowlers, both costumed and in street clothes, unite to bowl while quoting lines from the movie. Scott says that there are several people who have come to bowl without having gone to see the movie. He’s already sold most of the available bowling passes for the night and it’s only an hour into their scheduled time at the bowling alley. Mixed Tape Film Series held a showing of The Big Lebowski last year, but Scott says this event has proven to be even more successful. “Last year we just showed the film and we had about 200 available seats,” Scott says. “We sold out 40 minutes before the screening and had to turn 300 people away. This year is the first time we’ve added the bowling and costume contest and we’re definitely going to continue with that next year.” Scott would also like to bring the bowling and film screening a little closer together next year by showing the movie in the parking lot of the bowling alley.
A world of pain: Costumers channel the Big Lebowski and WalterSobchak at the Triad’s Lebowski Fest, which featured a screening of thefilm at the Carolina Theatre followed by some rolling at BrunswickTriad Lanes. (photo by Lindsay Craven)