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[Photo Via: Nieman Journalism Lab]
When I was 25 I got a job with the Coen brothers. I’d worked on 3 movies as an apprentice film editor and got a gig with them as a personal assistant when they made The Big Lebowski. I was with them for a year, from before pre-production through post-production (when they edited the movie, I transitioned from personal assistant to one of the assistant film editors). It was a memorable time, one that I’ve recounted often throughout the years when people tell me how much they love the movie. Now, I’ve got a long behind-the-scenes story, The Dudes Abide: The Coen Brothers and the Making of The Big Lebowski, over at Kindle Singles.
Here’s a little taste.
Joel and Ethan Coen were waiting for John Goodman to finish taking a leak. It was just after lunch on Dec. 10, 1996, and Joel, who’d turned 42 a few weeks earlier, was looking out a large window at the Hollywood Hills. It was raining again.
“That’d be just our luck, Eth,” Joel said. “Spend a whole winter in Minnesota and it doesn’t snow, then we come here and it fucking rains.”
Joel, older by three years, stood with his hands in his sweatshirt pockets. His black hair tied in a ponytail, small round glasses across his nose, he could have passed for the Ramones’ long-lost brother—the one who went to graduate school.
“The fucking rainy season,” he said.
On this rainy afternoon in L.A., Goodman and Jeff Bridges were meeting for the first time to read through a new Coen brothers screenplay called The Big Lebowski. Bridges was still stuck in traffic when Goodman returned from the can. He sat on the edge of the couch, legs open, his belly hanging so low it looked like he was sitting on the floor, and started quoting lines fromFargo. Goodman, a friend of the Coens since he worked with them on their second movie,Raising Arizona, laughed about the scene where William Macy tried to escape out of a motel window, only to be dragged back inside by the cops.
“Macy in his underwear,” Goodman said, giggling.
“That’s our answer to everything,” Ethan said. “You need a dramatic fall, put a character in his undies.”
Joel told Goodman about re-recording dialogue for the profanity-free television version ofFargo. They rewrote the line, “I’m fucking hungry now” to “I’m full of hungry now.”
“Why didn’t we write it like that originally?” said Joel. “It’s funnier.”
Goodman said, “Who else is coming on this show?” (In Los Angeles, movie people call a movie a “show.”)
There was Steve Buscemi as Donny, Julianne Moore as Maude, Jon Polito as Da Fino.
Joel said, “Our friend Luis, who was an assistant film editor on Hudsucker, will be playing the enraged Mexican.”
“Yeah, you’ll like Luis,” Ethan said in a creaky voice. “He makes a big statement.”
“Turturro is coming in to play the pederast,” Joel said. “He said he’d do his best F. Murray Abraham.”
Much of the cast was in place save for Bunny and Brandt and, critically, the Big Lebowski. You know, the other Jeffrey Lebowski, the tycoon whose Pasadena mansion is both miles and worlds away from the Dude’s rundown bungalow. With just over a month left before filming began, the Boys—as Joel and Ethan were known by colleagues and friends—weren’t close to casting the title role.
The trouble was that most of the actors they wanted were dead. Raymond Burr? Dead. Fred Gwynne? Dead. Anthony Perkins, Marty Balsam, Chuck Connors? All dead. Brian Keith was ill (he died less than a year later). Jason Robards was said to be having health problems.
The original Lebowski list was dubbed “Mussburger lists”—referring to Paul Newman’s character from The Hudsucker Proxy. It included Tommy Lee Jones (too young), Robert Duvall (not interested, didn’t get it), Anthony Hopkins (not interested, wouldn’t play an American), Gene Hackman (not interested, wanted a vacation), and Jack Nicholson (not interested, only wanted to play Moses).
Another Lebowski wish list followed, a wild collection of names that included Norman Mailer, Jerry Falwell, Gore Vidal, William F. Buckley, Jonathan Winters, and General Norman Schwarzkopf. Also, venerable actors like Fred Ward, Carroll O’Connor, Hoyt Axton, Ned Beatty, Peter Boyle, Richard Mulligan, Michael Caine, Jackie Cooper, Bruce Dern, and Paul Dooley. Ernest Borgnine was included, as were Larry Hagman, James Coburn, Andy Griffith, and Lloyd Bridges.
The choices narrowed—Rod Steiger, George C. Scott, Charles Durning, Pat Hingle. Then, the impossible dream: Brando. It was a good dream, too, though unlikely. Brando had certainly grown into the role but he was eccentric, expensive, and didn’t much like to work. Still, the idea amused the Boys no end, and for weeks they quoted the Big Lebowski’s lines in a Brando accent: “Condolences, the bums lost,” Joel said with his jaw pushed out to look like Brando inThe Godfather.
“Strong men also cry,” Ethan replied.
But their favorite was, “By God, sir, I will not abide another toe.”
The Dudes Abide is available now. You don’t need to own a Kindle to read it. So long as you have a device that is connected to the Internet, you can download the Kindle App—to your phone or computer—and then purchase the story.
If ghosts paid the rent, Eric Hadar would have an all-star tenancy: Freddy Bienstock, Johnny Burke, Cab Calloway, Nat King Cole, Tommy Dorsey, Duke Ellington and Jimmy Van Heusen, to name a few. Not to mention J.J. Hunsecker and Danny Rose.
But ghosts do not pay the rent. Neither do fictional characters. Their onetime home, the Brill Building, 1619 Broadway, at West 49th Street, now stands more than half empty, after the closing last year of Colony Records and the Sound One postproduction studio.
I worked for Sound One when I was in high school and college and then later as a freelancer. That building is where I came of age in many ways. Bummer what’s going on there now.
[Photo Via: The Brill Building Documentary]
Around this time 13 years ago I got together with my friend Alan to make a mix cd of the rap records that has been released that year. A rash of good hip hop records came out in 2000, from major label and underground artists alike. There were joints from name brands like Jay Z, Snoop, Dre, Eminem, Ghostface, MOP, Common, Xzibit, Wu, Outkast, and De La Soul. The veterans were still heard–Biz, Phife and Sadat X. But some of the records I liked most were from so-called underground artists like J-Live, Quasimoto, Dialated Peoples, Kid Koala, Slum Village, Cali Agents, Rah Digga, Encore, and The Nextmen.
Alan and I had known each other for a few years and always talked about doing something together. Alan was a record nut and an engineer. He’d programmed drums for Tori Amos, Madonna, and C&C Music Factory. Worked with Francois Kevorkian and Steinski.
Alan was a whiz at Pro Tools, a professional audio editing program. It was a chance for me to make a dream mix because of what Alan could do technically. I figured we’d make a little cd that I could give to friends for the holidays.
Alan lived in Midwood, Brooklyn, I lived in Carroll Gardens. I’d go over to his place with my records and video tapes. What started as a quick project turned into something more substantial. Four months and more than 120 studio hours later we produced an album-length mix cd we called “Borough to Borough.” (By the time we finished I’d moved to the Bronx.)
After each session, Alan burned a cd of what we’d done. I’d take it with me, listen to it for days, make notes, and the next time we saw each other, we’d make corrections before moving on to the next track. We shared similar sensibilities so there was an easy shorthand between us–remember that Bugs Bunny cartoon when?, what about that George Carlin line? Still, it was the first time I ever truly collaborated with someone. I learned that I couldn’t always have my way. Sometimes, I had to let Alan show off like when he reprogrammed the drum pattern on a Jurassic 5 record because there was no place on the instrumental where the drums were in the clear. And I was always happy to let him do his thing because it sounded great but also because I admire watching a craftsman at work.
If the project was a fantasy come true for me, it was liberating for Alan. He could play and do anything he wanted to do; he wasn’t just a hired hand. So we played and played, and honed the sombitch until we were satisfied. Then we packaged it and sold it and even got reviewed in a few British music magazines.
So here you have it. An audio collage, featuring rhymes, scratching, dope production and a host of spoken word and movie clips. You’ll recognize the voices of Fred Gwynne, Jack Nicholson, Elliott Gould, George Carlin, Marv Albert, Bill Murray, Frank Oz, Holly Hunter, Steve Martin, Elaine May, Walter Matthau, Al Pacino, Jack Palance, Joe Pesci, Goose Gossage, Richard Pryor, Mel Blanc, John Sterling, Mel Brooks, Bill Cosby, Earl Weaver, Nicholas Cage, Jackie Gleason, Chris Russo, Mark Rydell, Albert Brooks, Michelle Pfieffer, Gabe Kaplan, Mike Tyson, Robert De Niro, Orson Welles, John Turturro, Art Carney and Fat Clemenza.
Intro. Beat by DJ Desue (Barber Shop Emcess…”Music, Money and Women”)
Yes. J-Live, produced by Emmai Allaqueva
Tour Guide. People Under the Stairs
I Don’t Know. Slum Village
Crookie Monster. Produced by the Alchemist
Oooh. De La Soul
Dew It. Biz Markie. Produced by Ill Chemist/Al D
What’s Up Fatlip? Fatlip
Microphone Mathmatics. Madlib
Lyrical Fluctuation. Jigmastas, beat by DJ Spinna
Service. Dialated Peoples. Cuts by Babu
Take Over. Joey Chavez. Cuts by DJ Revolution
Any Champion. Pacewon. Cuts by DJ Revolution.
Worldwide. Defari. Beats by Joey Chavez
Love/Hate. Encore. Beat by Nextmen
Rhymes. Get Open featuring Sadat X
Nasty or Nice. Beat by Y@k Ballz
Lesson of Today. Rah Digga. Produced by DJ Premier
Rockaparty. J B Lee. Produced by Ill Chemist, Al D
Loop Diggin’. Madlib
Ass Finish First. Beat by DJ Nu-Mark
J-Liveness: Produced by Pete Rock
Players/Fall in Love. Slum Village
Barhopper. Kid Koala
Just One More Thing. People Under the Stairs
Them That’s Not. J-Live
Nighty Night. Beat by Madlib
Picture of me in Gravesend, Brooklyn with Sammy’s 62 Dominican Republic shirt from the ’98 season and Nathan’s cup of soda. Picture by Alan Friedman.
My father was an incorrigible name dropper. He called famous actors and directors by their first names, suggesting an intimacy that didn’t always exist. He had met a lot of celebrities when he worked as a unit production manager on The Tonight Show. One chance encounter with Richard Pryor and he was “Richie” forever. Dad reached the heights of chutzpah when he went to the theater with a friend one night and spotted the actress Gwen Verdon. He walked down to her, introduced himself, and kissed her on the cheek as if they’d known each other for years. Ms. Verdon was delighted. Dad’s friend was amazed.
I remember watching “12 Angry Men” with the old man when I was a kid. “It’s almost as good as the original,” he said, referring to the TV production. “You see how exciting a movie can be even if it takes place in one room?”
I was captivated and by the end, I felt intelligent, finally on the right side of the line that separates boys and men. It was directed by “Sidney,” Sidney Lumet. They had crossed paths once; Dad had wanted to turn “Fail Safe” into a movie, a project that Lumet eventually directed. The old man admired Lumet not just because he was a fellow New Yorker but also because they shared a similar aesthetic, a love of the theater and actors. Dad was an avid theatergoer starting in his early teens through his mid thirties when he became an independent documentary producer. He revered Lumet’s quick and efficient approach to shooting a movie.
“Sidney always comes in under budget and has it in his contract that he keeps the difference,” he told me, raising his eyebrows. “Now, that is a smart man.”
Not long after my mother kicked him out, Dad saw “The Verdict” and raved about the performance Lumet got out of Paul Newman as a lawyer who became an alcoholic when he got screwed over, then sobered up when the chance for redemption arose. His clients got justice, he got back his self-respect, and I got squat because I was 11 and Dad said that was too young to watch the movie. The closest I got was the commercials on TV. Everything looked dark brown, courtrooms and bars alike, and Newman seemed so frail I didn’t even notice his famous blue eyes.
Dad holed up on his own in Weehawken, across the Hudson, after his next girlfriend gave him the boot as well. There were two things that he liked about New Jersey: the view of New York City from his bedroom window, and that the liquor store down the block opened before noon on Sundays.
I remember visiting him without my brother or sister one time in January 1983, shortly after “The Verdict” came out. It was a late Saturday afternoon, almost dark, and the sun reflected off the tall buildings overlooking 12th Avenue. The old man was lying on his bed in his underwear and t-shirt smoking a Pall Mall. The heating pipes clanged. The windows were sealed shut around the edges by duct tape but still rattled when it got windy. A glass of vodka sat next to the ashtray on his night table. I used to fantasize about emptying his Smirnoff bottle in the kitchen sink and filling it back up with water. But I never had the nerve.
Most of the time he’d make me entertain myself on the other side of the apartment, in the room without a view of the city. He didn’t want me reading comic books but I did anyway. Or I’d trace the movie ads from the Sunday paper. “The Verdict” was nominated for five Oscars including best actor and best picture. The movie ad showed Newman in a rumpled white shirt, tie loosened, his eyes half closed looking down. The light from a window washed over his face. He looked defeated. The text above read: “Frank Galvin Has One Last Chance at a Big Case.” I traced the movie poster and then drew it freehand. I felt the seriousness of the title “The Verdict.” I didn’t know what that term meant and didn’t ask.
Now I was content to sit next to Dad on his bed and look out the window at the orange light bouncing off the New York skyline. The view reminded us of how far we were from where we wanted to be.
There was a small black-and-white TV on the chest at the foot of the bed. An episode of M*A*S*H, the old man’s favorite show, ended. The familiar and mournful theme song, “Suicide is Painless” filled the room. Dad was talking about his girlfriend. He didn’t seem too bothered by their breakup. Leaving Manhattan was the bigger issue. With Mom, he was devastated. He still believed she was foolish to divorce him and was convinced that one day she’d come to her senses and have him back
Soon enough Dad returned to the subject of Sidney because Lumet directed the Saturday Afternoon Movie. “He always comes in under budget, do you know why? Because Sidney is not stupid, that’s why.”
“Dog Day Afternoon” was on TV: an Al Pacino movie for grown-ups, but Dad let me watch it with him anyway. Maybe the vodka he was drinking softened his resolve. I knew enough not to question why. Pacino—Dad called him “Al”—played Sonny, a little guy who robbed a bank in Brooklyn. The movie was about what happened in the inside of the bank with Sonny and the hostages. It was tense but parts were funny and I laughed when Dad laughed.
During a commercial break, I saw that his eyes were closed. I studied him. His stomach inflated and deflated in short, hard spurts. Dad was forty-five, almost six years removed from a heart attack, and his deep, uneven breathing worried me. He flexed his right foot and his big toe cracked so I knew he wasn’t asleep. Maybe he was meditating. He opened his eyes and smiled at me, put his hand over mine and looked back at the TV. When he took it away, it was to reach for another cigarette. I stared at the movie until I heard him start to snore. So I slipped out of bed, moving like a cat on the branch of a tree, and butted out his cigarette in the ashtray sitting on a table covered with burn marks. Then I climbed back into bed, careful not to rouse him. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen to the old man. He didn’t have a job and wasn’t in show business anymore. If only he would quit drinking.
I checked to see the progress of the light on the skyscrapers during the commercials. The orange glow began to fade as the sun set, turning softer, then pink as the sky darkened to a purplish blue. I thought of what Dad said when Channel Five ran the same public service announcement every night: “It’s 10:00 p.m. Do you know where your children are?” He’d say, “No, I don’t know where they are. I know they are not with me and that makes me very sad.” He told me so himself.
In “Dog Day Afternoon,” things were only getting worse for Al. It was nighttime in Brooklyn in the middle of summer and the air conditioning in the bank was turned off. The cops brought his boyfriend, Leon, to speak with him on the phone. Al was robbing the bank so he could afford a sex-change operation for the guy. That made sense to me. It was the right thing to do.
At last, the cops agreed to give him an airplane to escape. I imagined what the inside of the plane looked like and where they were going to go. But when they got to the airport, the FBI nailed him, the hostages were freed, and the movie was over.
I put my hands behind my head, lay back and looked at a water stain on the ceiling. I thought about Al, pushed onto the hood of the car at the airport, the loud sounds of planes taking off and landing in the background. His eyes looked like they were going to bug out of his head and he was on his way to jail which didn’t seem fair even though he was a criminal. Then I imagined Paul Newman. I was happy the old man had let me be a grown-up with him for a little while.
The white lights of Manhattan were twinkling on the other side of the Hudson when he woke up and refreshed his drink. I didn’t want to say anything stupid so I kept my mouth shut. Another cigarette smoldered in the ashtray. He picked up the New York Times crossword puzzle and said, “Good old Sidney. He never left New York.”
One of the enduring images I have of my grandfather on my father’s side is of him leaning against the window of Zabar’s. It was a Saturday afternoon in the early 1980s, a time of day when nobody in their right mind would venture inside. Grandpa was a pragmatic man. He waited outside while my grandmother bought Nova and was throwing bolos inside.
I’ve always tried to be practical like him but sometimes I’ll throw caution to the wind. Like last night, when I thought it’d be fine to stop by Fairway on the way back uptown to the Bronx. Late afternoon, Sunday. Brilliant. In no time, I was sweating like a madman, navigating around the crowded store. I couldn’t have just gone to the market a few blocks north, owned by Fairway no less. No, I had to be clever.
As I came to the end of my shopping list, I was standing in the organic department. I realized that I had to go back downstairs for English muffins. I wanted to throw a punch or at least a punchline. Some gallows humor was called for. I looked up and there was Tina Fey and her family, a daughter with big, beautiful eyes, and her husband, a short, nice-looking guy. Who else would appreciate a good Fairway joke but Tina Fey? But I was dripping with sweat and had bad breath. And I didn’t have anything funny to say. If I tried to say anything to her I’d come across even dorkier than Liz Lemon. I didn’t want to blow up her spot but even more than that, I just wanted to get my English muffins and vamoose.
Anyhow, it was a New York moment.
Dig this interview with me over at Gelf. I’ll be part of the next Varsity Letters Reading Series, this Thursday at 7:30 in Brooklyn.
Part One of “The 10th Inning,” Ken Burn’s two-part follow up to “Baseball” aired on PBS last night. “The Bottom of the 10th” is tonight.
I reviewed the show for SI.com. There’s a lot of good stuff in there. The Yankee Dynasty is represented nicely though I’m sure most of you wanted more (and there’s no sugar-coating Ken’s allegiance to the Red Sox, though it should also be noted that co-writer, producer and director, Lynn Novick, is a Yankee fan). The focus is on the ’96 Yanks, not ’98, a fair choice in terms of drama, though they didn’t mention Frank Torre.
There’s a ton on the Sox in “The Bottom of the 10th,” but Burns is never vicious–he doesn’t show the infamous slap play by Alex Rodriguez, for instance. I’d forgotten that David Ortiz won both Games 4 and 5 in ’04, man, totally blacked that out. This was the first time I’ve watched replays. Ortizzle’s name is noticeably missing from a list of stars associated with taking PEDS (Manny’s on it).
The baseball stuff is good. Plenty to debate, of course, but that’s fun part. Jonah Keri will be pleased that the ’94 Expos made the cut. I didn’t know from Mike Barnicle before watching the show and enjoyed his talking head interviews, even if they were ham-handed in spots. Then I read up on him and feel guilty for liking him so much.
But something felt off with the filmmaking. The Florentine films style—panning and fading over still photographs–is commonly known as “The Burns Effect.” I was talking to a friend recently who said, “How can you not jump the shark after you become a pre-set on iMovie?” I get his point but the Burns style doesn’t bother me because it works. You don’t look for every artist to be innovator, after all. I wouldn’t want Elmore Leonard to be anything but Elmore Leonard.
But I’m not sure that the Burns style is ideally suited to journalism. Nothing is more frustating than the music. In “The 8th Inning” and “The 9th Inning,” Burns used period source music as a character in the story. But here, over and over again, I was distracted by the music selections. I thought they got in the way of the story. Most of the tracks aren’t bad pieces of music on their own, but they just don’t have much to do with the topic at hand. And they have nothing to do with what was on the radio at the time.
Burns does use James Brown and Tower of Power. This record from The Incredible Bongo Band opens the show:
P.E. and The Beastie Boys and the White Stripes are used but otherwise, there’s too much smooth jazz and strumming guitars, where songs like “Nothing Shocking,” by Jane’s Addiction or the Red Hot Chili Peppers version of “Higher Ground,” or any number of radio hits would have been interesting choices. There’s cool cuts from the Red Garland Trio and Wynton Marsalis, but Burns misses out on using Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” in the Mariano Rivera segment, an oversight than can only be excused by budget considerations And even when music choices work thematically like with David Bowie’s “Fame,” they are obvious, not to mention dated.
But that’s me. And I expect fireworks from Burns and company every time out. Still, “The 10th Inning” is certainly worth watching.
Oh, and over at Deadspin, dig this memoir piece I wrote about working for Burns back in the spring of 1994:
Ken got a kick out of turning people on to the things that moved him. When Willie Morris appeared in episode five of Baseball, talking about listening to games on the radio, I asked Ken who he was, and that was my introduction to Morris and his classic memoir, North Toward Home. I found a copy immediately and the book made a lasting impression on me. Ken was an avid music fan and hipped me to Lester Young and Booker T and the M.G.’s. During our car ride north, I tried to get him to dig some rap records — I remember playing him “Passin’ Me By” by the Pharcyde — but he couldn’t get past the lack of melody. Then, he took out a cassette and played what he called the best version of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” It was Marvin Gaye, singing at the 1983 NBA All-Star Game, and Ken was right.
[Photo Credit: J. Parthum]
The summer before my senior year in high school I got a job as a messenger in a post-production house in Manhattan. Martin Scorsese was editing “The Last Temptation of Christ” in the building. The movie was scheduled to debut at the New York Film Festival in September but there was so much controversy surrounding it, the date was pushed up. So Scorsese and his team of editors worked around the clock to mix the sound. One Saturday, I came into work to sit next to the projector in the machine room and watch. After an hour, Scorsese invited me inside. I was supposed to go visit my grandfather who was recovering from surgery at Lennox Hill, but I stayed in the dark mixing studio all afternoon. I watched and listened.
Scorsese was approachable that summer. He complimented me on my t-shirt collection, talked to me about movies, and one day when I brought my friends in, trying to show off, Scorsese spotted me and said hello, a huge thrill.
The next summer, I’d graduated high school and Scorsese was shooting a gangster movie called “Wise Guy” (later changed to “Goodfellas). The Dailies–footage from the previous day’s shoot–were transfered to videotape for Robert DeNiro. Whenever I had down time between a run, I snuck into the transfer room and watched take after take of Joe Pesci, Ray Liotta, DeNiro and the gang. I’d never been so anxious to see a movie in my life. A few months later, I was walking past a studio where they were mixing the sound and I heard “Monkey Man,” my favorite Stones song. I stopped dead in my tracks.
Are you kidding me? This is going to be the best movie ever.
I saw “Goodfellas” the day it opened, the first showing, high noon, over on the east side somewhere. Then, I saw it four more times in the theater.
That was 20 years ago. Check out the oral history of the movie featured over at GQ. It’s not great but it gives you some flavor behind the making of the movie that put Scorsese’s career back on the map and practically annoited him as the Dean of American Directors.
Because I just can’t get me enough of Jeff Bridges, here’s some more on the favorite to win the Best Actor Oscar next weekend…from Manohla Dargis in the Sunday Times:
In the early and mid 1970s he played a wide-eyed boxer, a sly con artist, a moonshiner turned car racer, a squealer turned suicide, a thief and a cattle rustler, working with veterans like John Huston (“Fat City” in 1972) and newcomers like Michael Cimino, who, for his 1974 debut, directed Mr. Bridges alongside Clint Eastwood in the crime story “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot.” The critics had started to pay attention. “Sometimes, just on his own,” Pauline Kael wrote of his performance as a stock-car racer in “The Last American Hero” (1973), “Jeff Bridges is enough to make a picture worth seeing.” Notably, she also compared him to Robert De Niro, who was about to set fire to screens in Martin Scorsese’s “Mean Streets.”
“He probably can’t do the outrageous explosive scenes that Robert De Niro brings off in ‘Mean Streets,’ ” she wrote. “But De Niro — a real winner — is best when he’s coming on and showing off. Jeff Bridges just moves into a role and lives in it — so deep in it that the little things seem to come straight from the character’s soul.”
I worked as an assistant film editor on The Big Lebowski which was cut on film and not a computer. During the shoot, our main responsibility in the cutting room was to mark-up the sound track and the picture and synch the footage that was shot the day before–these are called “rushes” or “dailies”, which would be screened for the directors later that day. We’d check the synch by screening the footage on a Steenbeck.
Watching Bridges work was a revelation–he simply was the Dude. Some actors need a bunch of takes before they really hit their stride but Bridges was that character, and in each take he gave a subtle variation on a line reading or a physical gesture. You could tell that he had a background in TV and film and not the theater. His approach and rhythm was different from most everyone else in the movie. He was so natural and extremely intelligent, providing the directors with all the material they’d need to piece together a winning performance.
Back to Dargis now, writing about Lebowski:
Whether shuffling around in a bathrobe or dropping a lighted joint in his lap, Mr. Bridges’s timing is brilliant. But it’s his ability to convey a profound, seemingly limitless sense of empathy that elevate the Dude beyond the usual Coen caricature. By facing every assault — repeated beatings, a friend’s death, the theft of a rug — with little more than an exclamation (“Man!”) and a toke, he and the Dude affirmed that an American hero doesn’t need a punch, just a punch line, something that Judd Apatow’s merry band of potheads know well.
In some respects “The Big Lebowski” was Mr. Bridges’s “Raging Bull,” a defining movie. He never established a long working relationship with a director as Mr. De Niro did with Martin Scorsese. Mr. Bridges has worked with significant filmmakers, just not necessarily in their finest hour. He has made questionable choices, but he has had a breadth of roles that should be the envy of most, and a depth few achieve. And he has staying power. It takes nothing away from his work in “Crazy Heart” to note that the film’s success and profile probably owe something to “Iron Man,” the 2008 blockbuster in which he pulled a Lex Luthor to play the villain and which gave him his highest-profile role in years. He was hilarious, absurd, necessary, and to watch him in that movie as well as in “Crazy Heart” is to be reminded yet again of how he abides.
Dargis singles-out Cutter’s Way (pictured above) and that’s a movie worth watching if you’ve never seen it. Terrific-look. The only drag is watching John Heard chew-up the scenery, but otherwise, it’s a good movie.
Finally, my boy Joey La P, sent me a link to this interview with Bridges on KCRW.
You know, I’ve been so consumed with work over the past month that I forgot to mention that Bronx Banter turned four years old back on November 7th. Here is a look at the first post I ever wrote here. Anyhow, I feel great going into Year Five. Cliff has been a valuable addition over the past two seasons, and I’m proud of the community of readers that keep coming back (both those who use the comments section and those who don’t). The whole pernt was to build a community in the first place so I feel as if the banter has been a success. I’ve always been more interested in starting up a dialogue than I have in necessarily being any kind of expert. While I feel that I’ve grown considerably as a blogger, I also know that I’ve learned so much from you all, and for that I am grateful.
I’ve spent much of the fall working on new writing assignments, including some freelance work for Variety, not to mention my gig with SI.com. I’m also contributing a few chapters to a forthcoming Baseball Prospectus book as well as editing a compilation of Pat Jordan’s best journalism. I’ve read over a hundred of Pat’s articles and profiles over the past six weeks, material which covers almost forty years. Picking out the best 30 or so is not easy but is a tremendous amount of fun–it’s like making a literary mix tape. In addition to selecting the pieces, I’m also contributing an introductory essay, and I’ve conducted a Q&A which will appear in some way, shape or form, at the back of the book.
Yo, when I started doing lengthy interviews with baseball writers back in 2003, Pat was one of the guys I most wanted to speak with. Now, I’m responsible for proposing, pitching and selling a project devoted to his best writing. I can’t tell you how stoaked I am about this. Yup, Bronx Banter has been a great launching pad for me, and it is still rewarding to blog about living in New York and following the Yankees with you guys.
Keep comin’ back. We’ll leave the light on.
STRONG MEN ALSO CRY, SIR
When I first went to work for the Coen brothers in the fall of 1996, they had already cast Jeff Bridges as “The Dude” for their next movie, “The Big Lebowski.” For the first couple of weeks I was with them, they agonized over who would play “Lebowski.” The trouble was, most of the actors on their wish list were dead: Fredy Gywnne, Raymond Burr, Orson Welles. Ultimately, it came down to two actors, one of whom was British. I thought the Brit was the better choice, but for Joel and Ethan it was important that the actor was American, preferably of the midwest variety.
Thinking back on it, George Steinbrenner would have been an ideal choice. I was reminded of this after reading that Boss George got all choked up in front of a group of stunned reporters after yesterday’s exciting win over the Red Sox. As Lebowski would say, “Strong men also cry.” Veteran New York reporters Bill Madden and Joel Sherman were genuinely surprised at Steinbrenner’s reaction. That is saying something. Jack Curry reports in the Times:
The tears were visible beneath his sunglasses soon after Pride delivered for the second straight game. Steinbrenner depicts himself as a tough guy and a tough owner, a man who has avoided tears after winning some World Series titles. But on this emotional day in an emotional rivalry, when two of his best players wound up at a hospital for X-rays, Steinbrenner turned softer than pudding.
“I’m just proud of the way Mussina pitched,” Steinbrenner said. “You know, I’m getting older. As you get older, you do this more.”
According to Madden:
With a security guard behind him looking on in astonishment, Steinbrenner briefly excused himself from the group of reporters that had surrounded him in the press box as the Yankees were loading the bases against the new Red Sox closer, Byung Hyun Kim, with none out in the ninth. Moments later, as jubilation reigned from the 55,000 fans exiting the Stadium and Sinatra was kicking into “New York, New York,” Steinbrenner came back, still teary-eyed, only this time with a tone of defiance to his voice.
“Did you think Martinez was deliberately throwing at your guys?” he was asked.
“I have no idea what’s going on in his head,” Steinbrenner said, “except that it didn’t look too good to me. Two hitters? One of whom, Soriano, is on his way to the All-Star Game. … If he did deliver a message, he delivered the wrong — message!”
…Of course the Yankees found a way to win by a 2-1 score, and when it was over Niagara Falls took up residence on Steinbrenner’s face. The Boss bawled some serious tears of joy. Seriously. He was really crying. When it comes to this rivalry, there is never any need to make things up. Fact has been kicking Fiction’s butt now for nigh onto nine decades.
Ryan points out how the Red Sox wasted a great opportunity to take the series with Martinez pitching and the Yankees fielding their B (or C?) team.
The journalistic temptation is to get melodramatic when discussing the ceaseless Red Sox fan frustration against the Yankees, but how can you not when you see games like this? Losing this game, and falling back to the same situation the team was in when it arrived here in the wee smalls Friday (i.e. four games behind), on a day when they were playing the junior varsity and your team was suiting up the full varsity is, what? Galling? Humiliating? Exasperating? Oh, God forbid, and worst of all, predictable? Was there a seasoned Red Sox fan out there who didn’t know with 1 trillion percent certainty in his or her heart of hearts that as soon as Giambi’s single tied the game off Martinez that this game was a lost cause and more than likely would end in some messy fashion?
What did we have in the ninth? We had two singles on two-strike pitches, a hit batsman to load the bases with none out, and a botched grounder that had inning-ending 4-2-3 written all over it.
And then we had George opening up the facial faucet.
When the subject matter is the Red Sox and their ongoing battle to slay the big, bad dragon from the Bronx, no mere sportswriter is equal to the task. But Homer is dead, and we are all you’ve got.
Weep on, George. History remains on your side.