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Published: 2009/06/12

Bonnaroo Beacon: Whole Lotta Lebowski at the Cinema Tent

By Randy Ray
Dont worry. Youre not hallucinating, or, to be in tune with what you just saw, having an acid flashback. Those are, indeed, men dressed in giant bowling pin costumes, and they are at Bonnaroos Cinema Tent to help ring in the Lebowski Fest, a traveling fan festival which celebrates the 1998 cult film written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen.
The Cinema Tent will showcase a wide variety of celluloid gems featuring music, martial arts, deranged Vietnam vets, basketball, and even a real life rags to rags to potential riches story. The tent lineup includes Chuck Norris in Missing in Action, Primus: Blame it on the Fish, the NBA Finals, RiP: A Remix Manifesto by Web activist Brett Gaylor about copyright issues in the interactive format featuring Girl Talk, a pair of films in a series of vital environment works showing at the festival Flow: For Love of Water, to be presented by Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys, and Green Screens, presented by Rock the Earth, and, of course, the story about the little metal band that couldnt, but just could and might, Anvil! The Story of Anvil (best film title of 2009?).
But it is the film that will be screened on Saturday and Sunday at 3 p.m. that has truly become the little film that will make you laugh out loud after a long 11-year history as the Internets first cult film according to Lebowski Fest co-founders Will Russell and Scott Shuffitt, who will both be on hand to help celebrate the Coen Brothers masterpiece of sharp wit and character-driven comedy, The Big Lebowski. The duo began their festival in 2002 in Louisville, Kentucky expecting 15 of our friends might show up, according to Russell, and we ended up having 150 people come outmuch to our surprise.
Since then, the festival has taken off, and in 2009, the Lebowski Fest Speed of Sound tour hits 15 cities from Louisville to Las Vegas to Austin, Texas, after a stint at Bonnaroo. They can expect some shenanigans for sure, says Shuffitt. Whole lotta whathaveyou. Hopefully, all participantsman, beast, or mechanicalwill be able to attend. Were attempting to bring the Lebowski Fest Dude mobile, details Russell. Its a beat up 70s car with rust colorationnot an exact replica of the Dudes car, but its very Dude like. A classic car will be parked outside the Cinema Tent? Its a complete piece of crap, replies Shuffit. replies Shuffit. I spent some time on it, and were thinking of towing it down. Along with the Dude mobile, we have some games that we play that are associated with the film like the ringer toss. We use the Dude mobile, and you get in the front seat and you fling a bag of dirty undies over the hood at a target. I think its going to be a nihilists dummy.
The Lebowski Fest has spent the last seven years building up a fan base for these activities, and it has somehow led in a wild and crooked line to Manchester, Tennessee. [Lebowski Fest activities] kind of recreate the scenes from the film, explains Russell. Were going to have our marmot slingers down there, which is similar to the church picnic game where you take a mallet and you hit a frog on a seesaw and it goes flying into a bucket. Weve got ferrets instead of frogs in tubs.
Knowledge of the film may be a key to enjoying these surreal activities, and suffice to say, wed have to fill all of the Bonnaroo Beacons four daily newspapers to describe the films convoluted plot. Then again, that might never have mattered in the first place. When you watch The Big Lebowski for the first time, says Russell, you watch it like you watch any movie the first time; youre looking for plot. You dont realize that the real joy is in the characters and the dialogue.
So sit back and enjoy the film and check out the Lebowski Fest activities, even if they are as Shuffit explains: stuffed marmots. That playful banter echoed from the films style appears to cement the friendly relationship of the co-founders. We may be creating a new game that I am not at liberty to say if it will happen yet, says Russell. Top secret, quips Shuffitt, were cookin it up in the lab, before Russell again chimes in with were bringing our giant bowling pin costumes, which are always a hit with the kids. We will be dressed as giant bowling pinsthe entire weekend, clarifies Shuffitt as they both laugh at the inevitability. Thats all part of the funthe occasional acid flashback.
The genesis of the festival began on a lark, according to the Lebowski duo. We didnt think we were going to start this festival that was going to perpetuate itself like it has, says Russell. Scott and I were obsessed with the movie, and we were quoting lines, and we were in a really bad band at the time. We spent most of band practice time quoting lines from The Big Lebowski. If we had spent a little more time practicing it would have helped, but it was just a lot of fun to quote the movie.
That obsession led to their breakthrough idea which began modestly as these things often do in the weird urban legends of what happens around their hood might happen around your hood. We were sitting around at this weird tattoo convention, remembers Russell, and we were trying to sell some T-shirts, and we were really bored and quoting lines from the movie. It struck us that if they could have this kind of crappy tattoo convention, why cant we just have a The Big Lebowski convention?
The duo believes in the film and their little enterprise but have neither a blessing nor a curse from the Coen Brothers. Instead, they have relied on word of mouth, and the slow buildup of a little film that followed the Coens Oscar winning Fargo, but fell off the map without a trace until either time or the net saved it from the cinematic graveyard. The Big Lebowski is the first cult movie of the Internet era, believes Russell. I think having the Internet, people were able to find us when they would Google The Big Lebowski, and they would find Lebowski Fest. It just blows peoples minds. We still get e-mails from people who say, Oh my GodI thought I was the only one who liked this movie. I cant believe there is this big festival that happens all over the place. Coming from Louisville, we started traveling with it, and its been constantly growing. (And constantly trippy and amazing, offers Shuffitt.)
The Big Lebowski is celebrated at Bonnaroo 2009, and the Lebowski Fest will give attendees a further opportunity of engaging in all things Dude this year. The film and fest dual legacies will also apparently continue as long as there are those that love an intoxicating blend of stoned philosophers, comical war veterans, and White Russians. Its been quite an experience, concludes Russell. Me and Scott go to every event, and its a lot of fun. We get to meet fellow fans, and quote the lines, and the costumes are really awesome. Fans are really creative with their costumes. Along with the Dude mobile [presumably] were going to be bringing one of the prize winning costumes down to Bonnaroo to show offthe giant human-size Creedence tape.
And the bowling pins, riffs Shuffitt, and the dirty undies. And the bowling pins and the dirty undies, confirms Russell. And the marmots. Were bringing the party. Were going to do some of that, and then were going to screen the movie. Were really excited. Well do a brief thing, and if people want to ask questions or something, they can.
While the Bonnaroo festival attendee is fighting off hallucinations about this whole spectacle (did I really just see a dude dressed as a bowling pin?), the fan may or may not also see someone else, as well. We have to work on our satellite feed, confides Russell. We have a special guest that were going to try to beam in via satellite. Catch The Big Lebowski and a legion of eclectic movie and sport events at the Cinema Tent.

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