Teri Orr: Actors on high… and low
Sunday in the Park
I sat in on a City Council meeting this week, which is always a good civic exercise. I was reminded how archaic and ponderous government can appear. All of the rules of order. The formal decorum for having the public speak to the elected officials -who are sitting on a dais on high. Addressing a very grounded man – in his day to day life – as, “Your honor.” The hushed heads bent together of City Manager and City Attorney. How very civil it all was. How seemingly fair and thoughtful and respectful of the process and the public. And yet City-speak creeps in for responses and presentations, where initials strung together make sense only to those who work with them daily and the general public is often left out of the secret alphabet code.
One department head sat at the (lower) table as if a supplicant speaking to those above him, with a report filled with initials and details about an ordinance. He explained all the good in it, but admitted it wasn’t oblivious from folks not following The Rules.
“There might be,” the department head admitted, “a bad actor who could find a way through this.”
And after that, my attention had a severe deficit disorder and I got lost in the world of bad actors who were not part of a cliché meant to address someone who games the system but actual bad actors. As in a movie. People who didn’t act very well.
I found myself strangely dropped into a moment in time.
The year was 1998, right after we had opened the Eccles Center and Sundance was in the building. They were supposed to be. After all, the Eccles Center had been built with support from them and with equipment and help from the industry. We had a state of the art screen and projector for film (yep, twenty years ago that was the equipment) and we were engaged day and night in Oscar-level people watching.
It wasn’t so crowded then. And the actors loved the casual atmosphere of the festival. We were very casual. Very, very…not shiny.
The film premiere in the morning had a weird name and I hadn’t yet read the write up in the beautiful 8 by 10 glossy four color printed program. I got distracted by something and ended up in the center of the lobby. I was with a staff member chatting when out of the men’s room emerged Jeff Bridges, with bad bed head hair and dressed in bedroom slippers and a bathrobe -maybe from his hotel. He honestly looked stoned. In a lobby where film folks were dressed in black parkas and Uggs he was noticeable. There was buzz about his sobriety, or lack thereof. Did he have a handler with him? Did he just roll out of bed for the film premiere? It was all so odd.
What happened next was the showing of a film that even the Sundance audience didn’t exactly know how to explain. The Coen brothers – with a few films under their belts by then – had assembled a dream cast for a quirky film that rambled but had quick dialogue all at the same time. But what pulled that room together was …the rug. (Okay— I couldn’t help myself…)
The Big Lebowski was a star-studded film with a crazy collection of bit and bigger parts- that mixed low-level crime and drug use and guys messed up by the war and bowling and drug use and crime in low places and big mansions and social pecking orders and pecking and drug use and Creedence Clearwater music and a stolen rug from Lewbowski’s house (both of them really) that pulled the room(s) all together. There was a gun: the Vet had the gun and he wasn’t afraid to use it. It was a comedy that was just crazy enough.
Parading through the lobby were many of the cast members, who ranged from John Goodman to Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore and Steve Buscemi and Sam Elliott and John Turturro, and at that first showing no one really knew what to make of the film. It was either really brilliant or just dumb or like so many Sundance films, something you waited for someone else to define before you chimed in. Were those bad actors or actors acting badly?
For the rest of the week when the film played other venues Jeff Bridges showed up in the same get-up. He was, after all, The Dude.
And The Dude abides.
There were variations on his title, according to The Dude himself. You could also address him as His Dudeness, duder, or el dudorino.
This week, because my life and art often run parallel courses, The Big Lebowski popped up on a movie channel late one night and I watched it. Every overwritten, overacted, hilarious, dumb minute of it. There is a kind of zen genius to it, in a crass, sophomoric way. The characters play caricatures of an era when single guys bonded over bowling balls and bongs and beers. A not-exactly-grown-up tribe of Lost Boys.
There were a lot of those guys in Park City when the film premiered. They immediately declared the film “brilliant” and “genius.” I saw a few of them the other night at the city council meeting. Taking turns at the mic to voice their displeasure at various shiny town issues. And others still, sitting in the audience in dress shirts, so far away from their el dudorino days.
Life can be kind of comical in a small town if you stick around long enough. You can spot the guys who once were bad actors and now just act badly. Not every day, but still some Sundays in the Park.
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
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