Tag Archives: The Big Lebowski

All ‘The Long Goodbye’ was missing were nihilists, a marmot and a toe

Private detective Philip Marlowe lights his ever-present cigarette.

Private detective Philip Marlowe lights his ever-present cigarette.

Detective Green: My, my, you are a pretty asshole.
Philip Marlowe: Yeah, my mother always tells me that.

The Coen brothers, writers and directors of The Big Lebowski, have made no secret of their fondness for author Raymond Chandler and his unshakeable detective, Philip Marlowe. Not knowing much about Chandler, that really didn’t mean anything to me. But after seeing The Long Goodbye, director Robert Altman’s adaption of the Chandler novel by the same name, I totally get it now. The convoluted plot, the ridiculous characters, the twist on film noir, Los Angeles as the back drop, the drama of the wealthy and foolish wreaking havoc on all those around them. If you’re a Lebowski fan and haven’t seen The Long Goodbye, I recommend giving it a shot.

To me, what was most fascinating was the Lebowski-Marlowe comparison. Jeff Bridges’ Lebowski is a stoner shlub who loves his weed, White Russians and bowling. He gets dragged into nefarious business that’s not his simply by having the same name – Jeffery Lebowski – as the wealthy man whose drama it truly is. Lebowski stumbles and bumbles his way through a poorly executed ransom payment then stumbles and bumbles some more as he hopes to recover the cash and luck into a payday.

Elliot Gould’s Marlowe is a private detective, although the mystery of who killed Eileen Wade isn’t his case. Marlowe’s pal Roger Wade shows up late one night asking for a lift to Mexico. Marlowe obliges, then is arrested upon his return for aiding and abetting Roger in the murder of his wife. Marlowe is dragged in further by gangster Marty Augustine, who believes that Marlowe knows where Roger and Augustine’s missing money are located. Marlowe neither stumbles nor bumbles, nudging, grimacing, yelling, threatening and smart-alecking his way through the madness in an attempt to figure out who framed his friend and clear his own name, both with the law and the lawless.

The story is similar, and there are even similarities between Marlowe and Lebowski. But while Lebowski is just kind of wandering aimlessly hoping to luck into his fortune and out of trouble, Marlowe only appears to be aimless. His constant smart-ass comments, his chain smoking, his rumpled appearance, his mumbling, all of that are part of the show. He wants to be underestimated, because if you believe he’s a bozo, Marlowe has that much more of a chance to ooze into your life and learn what he wants to learn without you even realizing it. At first, Marlowe very much comes off as incompetent and a jackass. After awhile, the viewer starts to realize that’s just as false as anything Marlowe’s adversaries are throwing at him.

What I’m considering doing now is watching both, back-to-back, just to get a better look at how the two parallel each other. Marlow and Lebowski, two shlubs cut from slightly different cloth.

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Another pair of classics: “Catch-22” and “Great Expectations”

I am a man of two minds when it comes to Charles Dickens. On the one hand, I see why the word “journalistic” is used often in critiques of his work. He has an eye for detail and does a nice job of laying out the political, economic and social justice issues of the day. He has a knack for undercutting corruption and outing false, self-important people. There is a straightforward quality to his work that is to be admired. And there is no doubt about the importance of his novels and their relationship to the Victorian Period.

However … I might argue that all of those terrific things don’t necessarily make Dickens a great writer of fiction. I know, heresy. But let’s think about this … If Darth Vader had virtually disappeared after A New Hope and not even shown up at the end of Return of the Jedi, would anyone care about the Star Wars series? If Voldemort had dropped out sight pretty much after The Prisoner of Azkaban and Harry Potter had fought Crabbe and Goyle at the end of Deathly Hallows instead, J.K. Rowling would be a significantly less wealthy woman. Imagine a Big Lebowski where Walter damn near quits showing up after his run-in with “the Jesus” and the Dude is left to battle the nihilists and bury Donnie alone.

Maybe I’m stretching it with the last one, but you get my point. Miss Havisham is the interesting personality in Great Expectations. Not Pip, who the novel is about. Not Estella, who gets less interesting the more the novel progresses and eventually just fizzles out. Certainly not Joe, the people of the town or London, even the notorious lawyer, Mr. Jaggers. And most of those characters stick it out through the end of Great Expectations. But Havisham is outed as the fraud mentor at the end of the first third of the book and is relegated to minor character status for the rest of the novel. Easily the most interesting personality in the novel, Havisham is gone well before the end. The second two-thirds of Dickens’ fairy tale drag without her presence. And for some reason, both Dickens and Great Expectations are celebrated for it.

No similar problem plagues Catch-22. It’s madmen wall to wall: Yossarian, Doc Daneeka, Captain Black, Major Major Major Major and, of course, Milo Mindbender, who I may be elevating to my personal great literary characters pantheon. Each character – great and small – has their way of contributing to the madness of Joseph Heller’s WWII bombing unit. And despite each character’s unique foibles, each in his own way is locked into the catch-22 that plagues all of them. Every time you think Heller can’t take it any farther, he does. It takes a focused mindset to pull that off, almost an author’s form of method acting. To consistently immerse yourself and your work in the same logical fallacy and find new, more extreme ways of expressing it as the novel unfolds … it’s astounding. I couldn’t recommend this novel enough.

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Another pair of classics: “Catch-22” and “Great Expectations”

I am a man of two minds when it comes to Charles Dickens. On the one hand, I see why the word “journalistic” is used often in critiques of his work. He has an eye for detail and does a nice job of laying out the political, economic and social justice issues of the day. He has a knack for undercutting corruption and outing false, self-important people. There is a straightforward quality to his work that is to be admired. And there is no doubt about the importance of his novels and their relationship to the Victorian Period.

However … I might argue that all of those terrific things don’t necessarily make Dickens a great writer of fiction. I know, heresy. But let’s think about this … If Darth Vader had virtually disappeared after A New Hope and not even shown up at the end of Return of the Jedi, would anyone care about the Star Wars series? If Voldemort had dropped out sight pretty much after The Prisoner of Azkaban and Harry Potter had fought Crabbe and Goyle at the end of Deathly Hallows instead, J.K. Rowling would be a significantly less wealthy woman. Imagine a Big Lebowski where Walter damn near quits showing up after his run-in with “the Jesus” and the Dude is left to battle the nihilists and bury Donnie alone.

Maybe I’m stretching it with the last one, but you get my point. Miss Havisham is the interesting personality in Great Expectations. Not Pip, who the novel is about. Not Estella, who gets less interesting the more the novel progresses and eventually just fizzles out. Certainly not Joe, the people of the town or London, even the notorious lawyer, Mr. Jaggers. And most of those characters stick it out through the end of Great Expectations. But Havisham is outed as the fraud mentor at the end of the first third of the book and is relegated to minor character status for the rest of the novel. Easily the most interesting personality in the novel, Havisham is gone well before the end. The second two-thirds of Dickens’ fairy tale drag without her presence. And for some reason, both Dickens and Great Expectations are celebrated for it.

No similar problem plagues Catch-22. It’s madmen wall to wall: Yossarian, Doc Daneeka, Captain Black, Major Major Major Major and, of course, Milo Mindbender, who I may be elevating to my personal great literary characters pantheon. Each character – great and small – has their way of contributing to the madness of Joseph Heller’s WWII bombing unit. And despite each character’s unique foibles, each in his own way is locked into the catch-22 that plagues all of them. Every time you think Heller can’t take it any farther, he does. It takes a focused mindset to pull that off, almost an author’s form of method acting. To consistently immerse yourself and your work in the same logical fallacy and find new, more extreme ways of expressing it as the novel unfolds … it’s astounding. I couldn’t recommend this novel enough.

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Songs class rock radio needs to forget, No. 2

2. Don Henley, Dirty Laundry. Much like the Dude, I hate the fuckin’ Eagles, man. OK … hate’s a strong word. Overrated and overplayed? That’s what’s happening here, particularly when it comes to the post-Iggles solo careers of the band’s members. This track, an indictment of the fluff that passes for television news, is soooo dated. First of all, no one younger than Henley watches the evening news anymore. Second, that “Kick ’em when they’re up, kick ’em when they’re down” break was a bad idea in 1982, and 30 years later it sounds just as bad, as well as dated. Third, it’s not much of a rock song; it’s really a pretty pedestrian pop track that doesn’t hold up against most of Henley’s other hits, let alone The Eagles’ catalogue. So next time, radio programmer, the next time you’re preparing to insert this track, stop. Try Seven Bridges Road. Try Boys of Summer. Try something not by any member of The Eagles at all. Please. Pretty, pretty please.

I can’t image anyone wants to hear this, but here it is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=46bBWBG9r2o

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