The San Francisco Independent Film Festival has been running a Big Lebowski party in conjunction with the film festival for six years now (since 2003). It rocks—though it is not the first. Lebowski Fests exist in various cities, all trying to top each other in how big they can go, inviting Big Lebowski fans from all over the country. One of the entries at this year’s Indiefest is The Achievers, a documentary that sheds some light on not just the history of Lebowski Fest, but also the whole unexpected cult phenomenon that rose out of Coen Brothers’ failed Fargo follow-up.
In 1998, The Big Lebowski was released to positive critical response but little else, and was pulled off theaters after only six weeks due to very poor box office performance. Inexplicably, the movie became a cult sensation—dubbed the first of the internet generation—and its rabid fans refused to let it die since. For most of us, The Big Lebowski is just a great movie. Certainly not the best movie ever (it’s not even the Coens’ best). For the true Lebowski fans, the self-named Achievers, there is nothing better in this world.
Sure, many of us wouldn’t mind watching The Big Lebowski over and over, quoting the admittedly memorable lines as we down a few servings of White Russian like The Dude; but how many of us would spend hundreds of dollars on costumes based on an obscure line from the movie, or get an artwork from the film tattooed on our thighs, or cry anxiously because we’re afraid of losing a Big Lebowski trivia contest, or—and yes, this really happened—join strangers in peeing on a rug in the middle of a party? The Achievers: The Story of the Lebowski Fans is Trekkies for a new generation. Well, kind of. Director Eddie Chung looks on from a quasi-outsider’s perspective, neither fully into it nor completely outside the circle. The doc endears the fans and yet at the same time questions the levels of fanaticism displayed.
Of course, a documentary about fans of one particular movie throwing a party isn’t enough in itself, so The Achievers also becomes an in-depth look at The Big Lebowski itself; featuring interviews with Jeff Bridges, various no-name actors who played bit roles in the film, and the people who inspired characters in the film recounting the true life events that inspired the Coens (such as the stolen car-math homework incident, which apparently really happened). Clips of The Big Lebowski are spliced in throughout, at opportune moments, as if to comment on the insanity in the only language Achievers understand. This makes The Achievers a fun watch, and probably leaves you itching to watch The Big Lebowski more than you've ever been in your entire life. Lucky I had the film on DVD, readily sitting on top of the TV, just in case.
It’s not a particularly revelatory doc, but for the non or casual fans of Lebowski, it’s an interesting window into a strange and unexplainable culture. The film tries to raise the question of why Lebowski, of all films, that elicited such a response. Nobody knows the answer, of course. What makes a cult film a cult film? Many newly released movies try to manufacture that kind of love, but these things are often fortuitous. Who knows why one, out of hundreds others released any given year, struck a chord?
No, this isn’t a doc that explains The Big Lebowski’s cult phenomenon. This is merely one that sits back, watches it all happen with disbelief, and invites you to join in on the observation.