Showing posts with label Coen Brothers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Coen Brothers. Show all posts

17 March 2023

Il Grande Lebowski—and beyond

My fellow SleuthSayer Bob Mangeot recently shared a marvelous post about a film that is currently celebrating its 25th Anniversary. It’s the only cult film that I can say I truly obsess about, but I will admit that my experience of it is a little strange. Or shall I say, un po’ strano.

The year was 2003. I had left the United States to live overseas with my new fiancĂ©, who covered soccer for ESPN abroad and had an apartment in Rome. My Italian was so rusty that local television was an exhausting blur. Luckily, Denise had bought a number of DVDs of popular American movies at a local DVD shop, and we spent our evenings watching those—again and again and again—after switching off the subtitles and reverting the audio back to the original English dialogue. No matter what we did, however, we could not shut off the Italian subtitles of a film called Il Grande Lebowski.

I remembered seeing the film in a US theater when it arrived in 1998. And while I’d enjoyed it, I did not rush to see it again or acquire the DVD when it was released to the home market. As a result, I never really comprehended just how much a debt the film owed to Raymond Chandler.

But now I did, and in my new temporary home, this very American film unwittingly became my window to another culture. I boned up on my Italian by ceaselessly watching the same Coen Brothers film and slowly associating the English words I heard the actors say with the Italian phrases printed at the bottom of the screen. Over time, my Italian got good enough that I could spot when an American idiomatic expression was rendered poorly in Italian. For example, the nickname of Jeff Bridges’s stoner character, the Dude, is somewhat mistranslated as Il Drugo, but that monicker sorta, kinda makes sense. (As do the other nicknames Drugo suggests in the film: Drughetto, Drugantibus, or Drughino.)

When we returned to the states and settled in the American south, we were delighted to find that we lived not far from Louisville, Kentucky, which hosts an annual LebowskiFest, featuring lookalike contests, bowling tournaments, live music, and two days of tempting merch. One year, we booked travel and lodging, only to cancel when a crop of unexpected freelance work popped up on our radar. Similar fan events are held in other cities, but we’ve never gone. It’s something I hope to do one of these days, but it’s not like I haven’t had my fill of accumulating Lebowski-themed swag.

For many years, the official artist of the Fest has been the LA-based Bill Green, whose style is truly inventive and wonderful. A signed poster of Maude Lebowski (played by Julianne Moore) hangs prominently in our living room, flanked by three bowling pins that Mr. Green has lovingly decorated with a hand-drawn image of the characters. (Three points to the astute reader who can tell me why Maude Lebowski is depicted upside down on one of these pins.) You can find more of Mr. Green’s artwork at his website.

A few years ago, the organizers of LebowskiFest released I’m a Lebowski, You’re a Lebowski, a book of interviews with the actors from the original film. And when some college profs approached them, saying they’d like to present some academic papers about the film at the next fest, the organizers accommodated them, though they admitted that they had no idea this was something brainier fans of the film did in their spare time. The result of these papers is a book entitled The Year’s Work in Lebowski Studies. Before you run out to grab this title, understand that it is a collection of truly academic writing. I love Il Drugo with a passion, but I could not keep up with the writing that flowed from the pens of deconstructionists. Turns out, I don’t need to know the meaning of the word metonym. I passed the book along to a friend with tenure in an English department.

Another writer, Adam Bertocci, later weighed in with a much more palatable book entitled Two Gentlemen of Lebowski, in which every line of the Coen Brothers’ script has been rendered as if penned by the Bard. When two thugs burst into the Dude’s shabby apartment and stumble across his bowling ball, the exchange goes like this:

Thug: (extracting bowling ball from a bag): What the f— is this?

The Dude: Obviously you’re not a golfer.

In Shakespearese, the dialogue goes this way:

Thug: Villainy! Why this confounded orb, such as men use to play at ninepins; what devilry, these holes in holy trinity?

Dude: Obviously thou art not a colfer.

The pages of this book are liberally sprinkled with footnotes and etchings that shed light on Elizabethan phrases, history, and culture. I really enjoyed it, and I rooted for a local theater group in our city that wanted to mount this as a production one year. They were put off the plan only when no one could figure out how they could get the performance rights.

Somewhere in my basement is the ultimate prize—a giant one-sheet movie poster of the Italian film. I dream of showing it off someday. I just need a hunk of wall big enough to display it.

Until I buy a new house, until I demo a corner of the living room, until I build a new wall, I’ll have to make do with my assortment of tiny Lebowski bumper stickers.

As the Dude might say, until then, Il Giuseppe abides.

* * *

See you in three weeks!


Bowling Pins by artist Bill Green.

Swag by artist Bill Green.

28 April 2016

Janice Law's "Homeward Dove"

by Eve Fisher

Have you ever looked around and realized you're in a dead-end job, in a dead-end town, working your butt off for just enough to keep you in rent and groceries?  Too much drinking, too much junk food, too much wasted time.  A memory of something better - like that girl back in high school - but right now you've settled.  Oh, how you've settled.  The only good thing in your life is fishing, drinking, and the occasional roll in the hay with a woman who's also settled, and doesn't really care...

And it ticks you off, down deep. It should be better than this.  There should at least be a future, right? Maybe a vacation that doesn't involve Motel 6 or a friend's busted out old camper? A better job? A home and family?

And if you can't get that, why should you play it straight?  It's a mug's game, and you don't want to be just another loser.  So you cut corners, do some dicey stuff, make a little money on the side, but you've got your ass covered.  Everything's fine.

And then in she walks.  Not Lana Turner from The Postman Always Rings Twice.  The supervisor from hell, with a clipboard, an attitude, and a taste for money.  The kind of person who knows who's screwing the company, because that's her plan, too.  And she goes straight for your throat.  Pay up, or get fired.  And keep paying, paying, paying...

Welcome to the first 14 pages of Janice Law's new novel, Homeward Dove.  (Available here at Amazon, in paperback and on Kindle.)

Our dead-ender is Jeff Woodbine, our supervisor from hell is Michelle, and the high school dream girl is Jess.

So, where do you think this is going to go?  Not where you think.  Like a Coen Brothers' movie, this has twists and turns, dark humor and black deeds, that go places that you don't expect, but when they come, you know they're absolutely right.

Michelle is like all blackmailers, just stupid enough so that her greed makes her feel invincible.  She keeps pushing, and pushing, and pushing for more money.  Jeff is at the end of his rope.  But on the opening day of trout season, when a hungover Jeff climbs out of bed with his f-buddy, Lynn, and goes down to the river to clear his head, who does he find but Michelle, wheeling a toddler down the path.

Well, they're going to get into a fight, right?  Yes.

He's going to kill her, right?  Inadvertently, yes.

The only witness?  A toddler, who can't even speak...

And when he gets back home, Lynn is still asleep, nobody's noticed, everything's fine.

So why does he feel so sick?  And what happens when the police show up?  Thank God - in Jeff's world - for Hurricane Andrew, which gives him a chance to get out of town without seeming like he's running away.  He works hard, cleans up his act, makes some money, lives with it all.

Months later, he's back, to a new job.  And he runs into Jess, the woman he's always wanted, who cried in his arms the night before her marriage to a man who died a few years later, a military hero. She's beautiful, sympathetic, loving; and Leon, her son, is the toddler in the stroller who saw Jeff kill Michelle.

So, where do you think this is going to go?  Not where you think.

There are twists and turns. Conscience and cops.  A fire that damn near destroys everything.  A story that Jeff's grandfather has shared with no one, "Though you're maybe the one to tell."  And when he does, it comes with a warning:  "See you be careful and don't get into [a business] that's as high priced."  But the warning comes too late for Jeff.  What he needs is to know what to do next.

Homeward Dove is like a Coen brothers' or an Alfred Hitchcock movie, where ordinary people in ordinary lives get bad breaks, make bad choices, and do bad things.  Sometimes very bad things. And then try to break free, as frantic as a fly in a spider's web.

You can't help but root for Jeff.  But what's right?  What's fair?  What should happen?  What does?
"Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin.
Dance me through the panic 'til I'm gathered safely in.
Lift me like an olive branch and be my homeward dove...
Dance me to the end of love;
Dance me to the end of love."       Dance me to the end of love - Leonard Cohen