This year's Oscar-nominated "True Grit" marked the second collaboration between Oscar-winning star Jeff Bridges and Oscar-winning producers/directors/writers Joel and Ethan Coen. It should come as no surprise that their first collaboration, "The Big Lebowski," was not the movie for which they won their Oscars.
In a recent PBS' "American Masters" portrait of Bridges, we see that he is a serious and talented painter, photographer and musician, as well as one of the most accomplished actors of his generation.
His diverse body of work includes his first Best Actor nomination in "Starman." He played piano opposite his brother Beau in "The Fabulous Baker Boys," was the exalted air crash survivor in "Fearless" and the suicidally despondent DJ in "The Fisher King." He won his Oscar last year as the country singer in "Crazy Heart."
His family says that the role of Jeff "The Dude" Lebowski is the closest to the real Jeff Bridges. "When I first read the script," Bridges said, "I felt as if I was born to play The Dude." In her New York Times review, Janet Maslin wrote, "Mr. Bridges finds a role so right for him that he seems never to have been anywhere else."
Since their first film, 1984's "Blood Simple," the Coen Brothers have twisted and paid tribute to classic American genres. They've been called the "two-headed director." Their vision is one vision. It's said that an actor can question either brother and get the exact same response from each.
The brothers write, direct and produce their films together. They also edit their movies using a pseudonym. One actress described them as having the energy of 12-year-old boys armed with a homemade camera and endless creativity.
Until recently, Joel received sole credit for directing and Ethan for producing, because of a Directors Guild rule disallowing shared director credits except for an "established duo." Now an established duo, the Coens won a shared Best Director Oscar for 2007's Best Picture, "No Country for Old Men," for which they also won their second Best Writing Academy Award. "They are," according to Screenwriting Magazine, "two of the greatest contemporary American dialogists."
With its Los Angeles setting, fake kidnapping, and double and triple crosses, the Coens' warped and riotous screenplay was influenced by the detective fiction of Raymond Chandler, especially "The Big Sleep" and director Robert Altman's revisionist take on Chandler's "The Long Goodbye." The film's fantasy musical numbers pay tribute to Busby Berkeley, who Joel says is "one of our heroes ... (because of his) audacity and sense of freedom ..."
Critics were mixed about "The Big Lebowski," which was a box office dud when released. It's become a cult classic. At Lebowski Fests held around the country, participants bowl, dress like their favorite character and drink White Russians in tribute to The Dude. There's even a religion, Dudeism, which advocates going with the flow and living in harmony.
For all its irreverence, "The Big Lebowski," according to Time Out Film Guide, is about "what it means to be a man, to be a friend, and to be a 'hero' for a particular time and place."
The film's narrator says it best: "The Dude abides."