This Thursday at New York’s IFC movie theater, Talib Kweli is hosting a screening of the Coen Brothers’ 1998 film The Big Lebowski and leading a discussion afterward. It's sure to be incredible, but we firmly believe the experience of listening to a lyrical mastermind like Kweli talk about the beloved cult comedy shouldn't be limited to a small movie-theater crowd. So we rang up the Black Star rapper to find out why he loves Lebowski so much.
From the line that always makes him laugh to his take on the psychedelic musical scenes, to the "racist" quote from Walter he nevertheless takes inspiration from, here are 10 Reasons why Big Lebowski is Talib Kweli’s Favorite Film.
Kweli: I’m a huge fan of the Coen Brothers’ and this movie encapsulates the best of their style. And it’s funny. There are movies from my childhood like The Goonies and The Princess Bride I could watch over and over. Big Lebowski is like that for me as an adult. It has great laughs, great music and great acting. Lebowski was a perfect storm.
Kweli: The scene that hooks everyone in is, “Over the line!”, when Walter shouts down the guy in the other lane. I’ve watched that movie with a bunch of people who hadn’t seen it before and who go in thinking, “I don’t get why everyone likes this movie.” You watch that movie and after that scene, you start to understand that this is different from the average movie. So that would have to be my number one scene.
Kweli: I identify with the Dude, especially when he talks about being a roadie for Metallica. I identify with that archetype. I had a lot of friends like him when I went to boarding school in Connecticut. He reminds me of a buddy I had in high school. Actually, Jeff Bridges just sent me a book, that The Dude and the Zen Master book he did.
I was watching him on The Daily Show the other day and he was very strange and weird: He wasn't answering any of the questions and was being very esoteric. I had to re-watch it just to get what he was talking about. In that way, the Dude was based on a lot of stuff that’s in him. And he’s sort of become that person in-between acting. Just from the outside looking in, it seems he’s become more like the Dude as he gets older. He was totally Lebowski’d out in Tron: Legacy. He’s all, “Duuude” and “Hey, man.”
Kweli: Of course I love the scene with the kid and the homework. That scene is the climax of Walter. Watching the movie over and over, it strikes me that Jeffrey Lebowski’s biggest problem is he has this friend, Walter Sobchak. All his problems come from him letting Walter be in his life and take the lead. And that scene is where Walter goes above and beyond.
He’s a man child. He never grew up. That line in the movie, "F-ck it, let’s go bowling," that’s his answer to everything. He just wants to be around his friends. He’s like a child who went to Vietnam and got stuck. When the Dude says, "Walter, you’re an asshole," and physically pushes him away. The whole movie's been building up to that. It makes me think of when you need to cut people off. Those people are the Walters in your life.
Kweli: In the Jackie Treehorn scene when he gets the spiked White Russian, there’s a Burt Bacharach-styled song [Henry Mancini’s "Lujon"] playing in the background. The melody of the song was sampled by Freestyle Fellowship in a song they got called “Mary.” It’s a song about smoking weed. And I think it’s great unintentional irony that it's playing during a scene with this character who’s a complete stoner. It’s a cool geeked-out hip hop moment for me.
And the Kenny Rogers song [“I Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)”]. Everyone in America has heard it before, but when you hear it in the movie, it’s cool. It’s funny, too, because on the Black Star album there’s a song called “Brown Skin Lady” where I took a quote from a movie called Chameleon Street. The dialogue is about a black dude who doesn’t like black chicks. And he’s like, “I like light-skinned girls.” He’s like, “I’ve been conditioned. Even my conditioning has been conditioned.”
Kweli: In the first scene, when the Dude is in the line at the grocery store, he’s watching George H.W. Bush on TV talking about Iraq. And Bush is saying his famous line, “This will not stand this aggression against Kuwait.” And so later on when he meets the Big Lebowski, who is coming at him all hard, the Dude says, “This will not stand, you know, this aggression will not stand, man.”
Three or four times in the movie he hears something and then he takes it and repeats it as if he’s come up with it. He does it again with Julianne Moore. When she’s talking about Bunny Lebowski, she says, “Whatever you want to call, her in the parlance of our times.” He then uses that same phrase when they throw him in the limo, he says, “A young trophy wife, in the parlance of our times.” A lot of people who’ve seen the movie a lot don’t even notice it.
Kweli: Just me being a music fan, I love the second time they play the Bob Dylan song during the dream sequence with the montage and the bowling ball. I like big productions, but they're hard to do without being corny. But if someone gives you the budget, go for it: Pull out all the stops, entertain me. Throw in a Dylan song and do a jig.
Before Big Lebowski, The Blues Brothers was my favorite movie. When it came out in 1980, that movie was literally in the Guinness Book of World Records for most car crashes ever in one film. They just went for it. It’s got the most action, the most laughs and the most music. And I think The Big Lebowski is a more subtle way to do that. They do everything that's in their heads in that movie, but I don’t think they’re as hammy as John Landis was. But it’s the same principle.
Kweli: Walter, who is a racist character, says this quote in the movie, “If you will it, it is no dream.” That’s an incredible quote. As a lyric writer, I thought, “Wow, that’s a great lyric.” But I’d never heard of Theodor Herzl [the godfather of political Zionism] and I tweeted it one day. And people immediately let me know, "Theodor Herzl is an asshole. He’s a super racist writer from Israel.”
But it makes sense because this guy, Walter Sobchak, is trying to be Super Jew the whole movie. And so he’s now quoting this racist Israeli guy. It was an interesting moment for me because it showed me you can get inspiration from your enemies. That quote is so beautiful, and it took my fans to let me know, “Hey, you’re quoting a f-cking asshole. And I was like, “Well, I’m really quoting The Big Lebowski, but that knowledge just adds another layer to the movie for me with Walter’s character.”