Will Russell is no stranger to obsession. As a young adult he became infatuated with the alt-rock band the Pixies and wound up tattooing their logo on his forearm. He has also had a long-standing attachment to his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, where he runs a small shop that features T-shirts by local designers. He's been passionate about Tim Burton's film Pee Wee's Big Adventure for decades, having seen it in his "formative years." Yet, none of the aforementioned quite compares to Russell's fixation with the 1998 Coen Brothers' film, The Big Lebowski, which he's seen too many times to count. "Honestly, I've lost track," Russell said. "I'm pretty certain that I'm in the triple digits." Russell knows the film so well at this point that he can recite huge chunks of it by rote. He knows arcane bits of Big Lebowski lore — that, for instance, Jeff Bridges' character "the Dude" is based on a real-life member of the Seattle Liberation Front, or that the F-word is used 281 times in the course of the two-hour movie. "It's hard for me to explain how a movie could be that rewatchable, but I like to compare it to a music album," Russell said. "You know what's next but it's just so enjoyable to experience it."
Such sentiments inspired Russell to launch Lebowski Fest with his friend Scott Shuffitt, back in 2002. At that time, the movie, which had flopped at the box office but garnered a lot of critical acclaim, was just beginning to generate its cult following. (Russell said it took time for viewers — himself included — to appreciate the full brilliance of the script and the characters.) Lebowski Fest wasn't the first of its kind, considering that Star Trek and The Rocky Horror Picture Show had already produced similarly arcane subcultures. But those predecessors don't compare with Shuffitt and Russell's celebration of all things Lebowski, which consists of a costumed bowling party (during which people run around dressed as Jesus Quintana and German nihilists), themed musical performances, and, of course, a huge film screening.
Mostly, Lebowski Fest is about paying homage to White Russians, Seventies beater cars, Credence Clearwater Revival, and loveable slackers who say "man" after every sentence. The attendees all hew to the Dude's non-competitive, laid-back ethos — thus, anything near 200 is a pretty amazing score at a Lebowski Fest bowling party. In the seven years since its inception, the fest has expanded to fifteen cities and generated the book I'm a Lebowski, You're a Lebowski: Life, The Big Lebowski, and What Have You. Still, the Coen Brothers remain smugly above the fray. Asked by the authors for an official statement, they said, "You have neither our blessing nor our curse." At some level, said Russell, they must get a kick out of the whole thing. Lebowski Fest San Francisco Movie Party happens Saturday, July 25, at the Fox Theater (1807 Telegraph Ave., Oakland). 7:30 p.m., $22.50 Har Mar Superstar performs. LebowskiFest.com