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2nd Annual Lebowski Fest


The Dude steps up to the line



Putnam Pit editor

LOUISVILLE, KY. (July 20, 2003) -- And then, there was this fella by the name of Jeff Dowd, at least that’s the handle his lovin’ parents gave him. But he likes to call himself “the dude.”


Dowd is ripping the tail off shrimp, dipping pieces in cocktail sauce and licking his fingers as he talks about his passions in the Bluegrass Cafe– passions that have a new gravitas since the Coen Brothers affirmed his singularity.    


Since The Big Lebowski came out on DVD, Mr. Dowd, a 53-year-old California native now writing a screenplay at his Santa Monica, Calif., home, has become a phenomenon although he was not in the film. But Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski, played in the film by Jeff Bridges, is a character based on Dowd, “and now, I can go anywhere and when someone says, ‘this is the Dude,’ 15 people in 100 will know.”

Many people already knew Dowd, however. "As the American independent film community slouches steadily towards corporate respectability, a few personalities serve as reminders of the movement's grungier roots," reports

Jeff 'The Dude" Dowd

"Perhaps the most well known among this ever-shrinking circle of throwbacks is Jeff Dowd, better known as 'The Dude.' A fixture on the indie circuit for the past 25 years, Dowd is best known as the man whose pursuit of low-maintenance bacchanalia and espousal of New Left ideology inspired the Coen Brothers to create one of the laziest heroes in film history, Jeff 'The Dude' Lebowski, in 1998's The Big Lebowski.

"Admittedly, Dowd has much in common with his on-screen alter-ego. (For the record: he was a member of the Seattle 7, he didn't write any draft of the Port Huron Statement, and he no longer drinks White Russians exclusively, though there was a phase a while back.) Unlike Lebowski, however, the real Dude has made quite a career for himself in the film industry, albeit one that resists standard categorization. Most often described as a producer's rep, Dowd essentially functions as a one-stop-shop consulting firm for independent filmmakers, working alternatively as a creative advisor, sales rep, marketing guru, and festival-circuit buzzmaker."

Dowd says Bridges has captured his character, and “he has my body language down 110 percent.”


“I can go to a military base and they’ll know me and the film, and that’s kind of frightening if you think about it.


“It’s a phenomenon; there’s instant rapport and friendship.”


The story, he says, is one of “two guys getting each other in trouble,” and they are both products of their times.


Walter, played by John Goodman, is a product of war and violence is part of his experience.


The Dude, Dowd suggests, is a pacifist trying to change the world and is also a product of his time.


“They are both paralyzed.”

“In a world of corporate corruption, these guys (The Dude and Walter) are still individuals,” Dowd says.


Born in Oakland and schooled in part in New York State, Dowd says he has been “around the right places at the right times,” and “around Nader, the Stones, the Living Theater,” which have been catalysts of change.


His work with other writers and filmmakers has at its core stories dealing with interesting individuals – character-based stories, he says.


“There are people who have to accept the status quo.” In the corporate dominated world, there is no government, he says. “It is all so un-American.”


Ironically, he says, the corporations are the enemy of business and stifle ingenuity.


“There are only two choices in the world,” Dowd says, ripping the tail from another shrimp. “Terror or hope.”


The seeds of what he is doing are not just from the 60’s, Dowd insists, but from the 70’s and 80’s as well.


“The interest is in a new way; there have been different philosophies at different times.


“You can look at the French Revolution – the Enlightenment to the Revolution to Napoleon in 50 years. People become revolutionary when there’s carpet bombing, when there’s increased violence.”


About his current project, he says: “I’m not working on an angry movie about what’s wrong. It’s a movie about what can happen.”


There is, he says, hope.