Carolina Paguero / Lantern photographer
When the Coen brothers’ film “The Big Lebowski” was first released in 1998, the reception was far from warm. The movie — which tells the story of Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski, a California slacker played by Jeff Bridges — was mostly dismissed by critics and outright ignored by audiences.
Thirteen years later, the film has amassed a large cult following among fans.
Lebowski Fest, a traveling celebration of the film, came to Columbus Friday and Saturday. A screening of the film was held Friday at Skully’s Music Diner, while a bowling party took place Saturday at Columbus Square Bowling Palace.
With the bowling party came hundreds of the film’s biggest fans. Many local devotees came in costume to spend the night bowling, quoting the film and drinking The Dude’s beverage of choice: the White Russian.
Many fans donned the now-iconic bathrobe and sunglasses and came as The Dude himself. Others dressed as Walter Sobchak, the ill-tempered Vietnam veteran played in the film by John Goodman.
Several attendees decided to go in a different direction, however.
Ryan Sloan, who traveled from Indianapolis, Ind., came dressed as Moses, a reference to a single line in the movie that many viewers might miss. Monica Day of Columbus made her own golden costume by hand.
Brian Ahnmark, a Columbus resident, came as Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character Brandt, the loyal assistant to millionaire Jeffrey Lebowski. He believes that while the film appeals to many people, it certainly isn’t for everybody.
“Not everyone’s going to understand,” he said. “It either strikes you or it doesn’t. I don’t mean that in a condescending way.”
Ed Daily of Strasburg, Ohio, attributes the cult following to the film’s characters, as well as the memorable, profane dialogue.
“Every line is quotable,” he said. “I joined a bowling team just because of this movie.”
People who come to Lebowski Fest haven’t only seen “The Big Lebowski” once or even twice. Day said she’s seen the film anywhere from 12 to 15 times. Daily said it’s been at least 50 or 100 times. Shannon Havor of Dayton has watched the film seven times in the last week alone.
Havor said that she admires the film because The Dude is so appealing.
“Everybody wants to be The Dude,” she said. “They want to be that lazy guy.”
Her husband, Zach Havor, agrees.
“Bowling all the time, working when you feel like it rather than when you need to,” he said. “I want to be that guy.”
Conversations between event attendees would often consist entirely of film quotes. People who weren’t shouting lines from the film brought signs instead.
One fan came as Donny, the character played by Steve Buscemi in the film. When it was his turn in the costume contest, the emcee led the crowd in a unison shout of the famous line “shut the f— up, Donny!”
Lebowski Fest began in Louisville, Ky. in 2002. Will Russell, who founded the celebration along with Scott Shuffitt, said that he did not expect the event to become as big as it is.
“We did it thinking maybe 20 people would come (to the first Lebowski Fest),” Russell said. “We ended up getting like 150 people.”
It only grew larger from there. Lebowski Fests have been held in Las Vegas, New York City, Los Angeles and several other American cities. In 2007, Lebowski Fest went across the Atlantic Ocean to the United Kingdom.
The event in Columbus was the 42nd Lebowski Fest. Russell said that while the popularity of the event has been completely unexpected, he’s still been enjoying the ride.
As far as the stars of the film are concerned, the success of Lebowski Fest has not gone unnoticed.
“We’ve actually had a lot of support from Jeff Bridges,” Russell said. “He actually came to the Lebowski Fest we did in Los Angeles back in 2005. He had a really good time, and we’re expecting him to come again hopefully to one this year.”
Ahnmark said “The Big Lebowski” has been an important part of his life for a long time. He had always wanted to travel to the annual Lebowski Fest in Louisville, Ky., but could never find the time. When he saw the event was coming to Columbus, he knew that he had no choice but to attend.
“A close friend of mine and I used to watch the movie a lot growing up,” he said. “It was a big deal to me when I was in college. It was something that brought me and my friends closer together.”
Some people are making their love of “The Big Lebowski” a family affair. Kevin Beam of Columbus entered his 7-month-old son Ian into the costume contest. To other fans, he was known as “The Little Lebowski.”