Motion Picture Soundtrack: “Just Checked In”

Written by Motion Picture Soundtrack

The first time I realized I was driving by one of the locations used in The Big Lebowski (1998)- Johnie’s Coffee Shop – I thought it would be great fun to host a Big Lebowski Tour. You’d rent a big, comfortable bus with video players, and show the film as you drove to the spots where pieces of the movie were filmed – Johnie’s, the “Big” Lebowski’s palatial residence, Jackie Treehorn’s home in Malibu, the bridge where the kidnapping exchange was to have taken place, Donny’s final resting place, etc. You’d serve white russians (or as The Dude refers to them, Caucasians) and maybe provide a smoke break for those suitably inclined. Finally, you’d end the evening in a starry bowling alley, knocking down pins.

It would never work, of course. To begin with, the locations are too far apart – The Dude’s home is in Venice, The Big Lebowski’s house is in Beverly Hills, Donny’s final resting place is down in San Pedro, Johnie’s is in the Miracle Mile, and the bridge is somewhere up north beyond the far side of the San Fernando Valley. To make matters worse, the bowling alley Hollywood Star Lanes no longer exists – it was closed and torn down in 2002. Apparently some of its decorations have been preserved at the Lucky Strike Lanes nearby, but it just doesn’t seem like it would be the same.  It’s a shame.  It would have been a brilliant tourist trap.

The Film: The Big Lebowski

The Artist: Kenny Rogers

The Song: “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)”

Who’s Who: The Big Lebowski was the seventh film produced by Hollywood’s “two-headed director,” Joel and Ethan Coen. While the pair made their biggest critical and commercial splash prior to Lebowski with their offbeat kidnapping and murder saga Fargo (1996) and more recently with No Country For Old Men (2008), The Big Lebowski undeniably generated the most faithful cult following. The structure of the film was influenced by the writings of Raymond Chandler, who wrote The Big Sleep and numerous other detective novels and short stories that were set in and around Los Angeles.

From the first draft of the screenplay, The Coen Brothers had planned to use Kenny Rogers’ song. Kenny Rogers had yet to launch his solo career at the time “Just Dropped In” was recorded in 1967 – he was still playing with a group of musicians known as The First Edition. His image at the time, which included long hair, an earring, and sunglasses, was known as the “hippie Kenny” and somewhat approximated the appearance of the modern-day “Dude,” Jeff Lebowski.

Jeff Daniels Bridges was also an initial target of the Coen Brothers when they wrote the screenplay. Since both Jeff Daniels (Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski) and John Goodman (his friend Walter Sobchak) were busy at the time The Big Lebowski was written, the Coen Brothers produced Fargo first before they filmed The Big Lebowski. Julianne Moore’s involvement in the film was also complicated by other commitments; she was only able to film scenes for The Big Lebowski around her work for The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997).

Why it Works: Having been slipped a mickey at the Malibu residence of pornography mogul Jackie Treehorn, The Dude passes into a luridly produced hallucination. It seems like every single thing in this dream sequence is a reference back to earlier or future events in the film. The bowling pin as a phallic symbol and the bowling balls as breast connect Lebowski’s interest with his current surroundings. The use of Saddam Hussein as an attendant connects to Walter’s ruminations on the Gulf War. The tool belt represents Lebowski’s future with Maude – as a “gun” for hire, much like the stars of Treehorn’s films.

What Goes Wrong: Nada. I can’t find a single thing to complain about. It’s great fun from start to finish.

Other Stuff: Something about this movie, and about this sequence in particular, always made me think of the eighties classic (yes, in my world it’s a classic) Three O’Clock High (1987), which featured Barry Sonnenfeld as its cinematographer. I was thrilled to discover that while Sonnenfeld was uninvolved with The Big Lebowski, he had worked as cinematographer for the Coen Brothers on their first three projects. I’m pretty certain that some of his influence prevailed du the production of The Big Lebowski, and the film was certainly improved as a result.