photo manipulation by nacrowe
its funny, when my brother and i were both attending high school in KUWAIT roughly 20 years ago our middle eastern peers were largely naive about AMERICAN culture and pretty much anything that wasn't related to that isolated oil-rich hellhole. my brother had a binder that carried a printed out picture of JOHN TURTURRO's epic bowling nemesis from the THE BIG LEWBOWSKI (WORKING TITLE, 1998) and his KUWAITI classmates would ask him who that was. he'd cooly reply "that's Jesus" to which they'd inquire confusedly "THAT's JESUS?!"
THE COEN BROTHERS are masters of playing with genre expectations and THE BIG LEWBOWSKI is a great example of them experimenting with the cinematic form of NOIR films and their ROMAN NOIR literary antecedent. NOIR films were largely created in a post-WWII climate where the world order was being rebuilt and the role of men was being challenged and rethought along economic, cultural and social considerations. the literary analogue to this genre predates WWII. usually there is a single male who throughout the film is fighting a series of outside forces that include government agencies (of the secretive variety), the media and (of course) women. women in particular are depicted as agents of destruction, i.e. femme fatales, who use their sexuality to attempt to derail our hero from his goal. of course its bullshit, but its a construction that is dear to a genre that at its heart is questioning what identifies masculinity when their hegemonic influence is questioned in a patriarchal society.
what makes THE BIG LEWBOWSKI so interesting is that instead of a determined, idealized male protagonist that rises to the occasion to supersede these overwhelming forces, we are instead given JEFF "THE DUDE" LEBOWSKI, an aging inept stoner with no will to effect change on the world other than his commitments to his bowling league and listening to CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL. he is the personification of ineffective masculinity, yet he is the protagonist that meanders his way through a convoluted plot of outside forces that he inept to deal with any reasonable capacity. that is the core of its humor and humanity.
i think i identified with that character not for his slacker-ness but his being thrown into crazy situations, much like i had at that point survived NIGERIA and boarding school.
LEBOWSKI throughout the film is manipulated by more sophisticated and devious counterparts, including another high-achieving JEFFREY LEBOWSKI who is nonetheless crippled and cuckolded by his barely legal porn star wife. even his doppelgänger or mirrored-self is compromised. much like his inability to effect change, the film also just kind of ends where it begins, and endless loop of inadequacy and mediocrity.
a film that never really ends or begins. no character development. no lessons learned.
great film well worth watching on repeat. i have since i was a teenager.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
back in college i spent writing a senior thesis on BILLY WILDER, specifically his early FILM NOIR cycle of films. this was in part a compromise as my advisor originally told me that in order to write about FILM NOIR, i needed to watch a majority of the 520 films considered to be a part of the genre. NOIR films in general were a reaction to the psychic trauma and intense political/cultural upheaval that was the post-WWII period. these films examined power structures in all their manifestations, much like the ROMAN NOIR literature that inspired it, and served as a sort of existential crisis for american society to work through what society they wanted to create after such an intense overseas engagement. i got through 150 over a few months and was beginning to lose my mind.
then i saw at the suggestion of my advisor what became my favorite film of that entire genre, CHARLES LAUGHTON's unnervingly prescient THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (UNITED ARTISTS 1955). the film is a marvel.
this film specifically goes after how god, faith and country can be manipulated, how religion can be corruptly utilized for profit and to empower. PULITZER PRIZE-winning writer JAMES AGEE's screenplay unnervingly exposes the ease at which unbridled human greed can be wrapped in the sanctimonious garb of religiosity to prey on the weak, in this case children. this is the role ROBERT MITCHUM was meant to play and is his crowning achievement.
deftly shot and framed by legendary cinematographer STANLEY CORTEZ, who would later go on to collaborate with SAMUEL FULLER, with homages to GERMAN EXPRESSIONISM and their haunting use of low-angled chiaroscuro lighting, this film is a visually stunning.
this is film is also an anomaly as it marked the only film directed by notable film and theater actor CHARLES LAUGHTON, as it was a box office failure. much like ACE IN THE HOLE, it cut too deep at the heart of the american life and called into question a still taboo issue that hasn't been addressed in the era of mega-churches and televangelists swarming on unfortunates like flies on pigs in a stye. it is quite the achievement that a 60+ year-old film hasn't depreciated in relevancy one iota. sadly due to its initial commercial failure this also marks the only collaborative effort by all its principal participants, which is a real tragedy in and of itself as today this is regarded in the same breath by critics as ORSON WELLES' influential classic CITIZEN KANE.
easily one of my favorite films and should be required viewing for anyone interested in film in general. cannot overstate how great this film is.