All right, I’m not gonna try and pretend The Achievers: The Story of the Lebowski Fans and Deadgirl have all that much in common, other than they’re both playing the San Francisco Independent Film Festival. But they do both focus on folks with peculiar obsessions, healthy and otherwise.
Camera in hand, television commercial director Eddie Chung descended upon the 2004 Lebowski Fest since 2002, an annual gathering of fans of the Coen brothers’ 1998 cult phenom The Big Lebowski and discovered a bona fide subculture. Who are these people? Why are they addicted to Lebowski? What makes ordinary working stiffs fiendishly create movie-inspired costumes (severed toe, Sioux City Sasparilla bottle, walrus, "camel fucker") as detailed as they are obscure?
At 66 brisk minutes, The Achievers can’t help being fun, although I imagine it would be difficult to enjoy the doc without having seen Lebowski. (If you haven’t seen Lebowski, or you saw it when it came out and like most audiences and critics at the time didn’t get it, you’re long overdue for a viewing.) Still, that’s probably not gonna be a problem for IndieFest attendees, considering the fest hosts an annual bowling-infused salute to the Dude. Dilettantes will appreciate The Achievers’ many Lebowski clips, which pop up to contextualize lesser-known references; diehards will thrill to the interviews with bit-part actors like "Saddam," the Hussein look-alike who hands the Dude bowling shoes during his dream sequence. Also featured are the real-life inspirations for the Dude, Walter Sobchak, and Little Larry Sellers (you know, the kid who steals the Dude’s car and leaves his D-grade homework paper behind incredibly, a true story, more or less.) The Coens are absent, but bemused star Jeff Bridges does make an appearance.
As Chung discovers, the most hardcore of the Lebowski fans found each other over the Internet, becoming acquainted via a message board dedicated to the film and the fest. Many have become real-world friends above and beyond the organized Lebowski gatherings, which now attract thousands of White Russiandrenched revelers. Really, they’re no different than heavy metal fans, or Rocky Horror junkies, or Civil War reenactors, tapping shared interests to build a tribe whose activities (Maude Lebowski tattoo, anyone?) might be viewed by the mainstream as crossing the line into low-level insanity.
Far more wackjobby are the protagonists of IndieFest’s closing-night film, Deadgirl, which is described in the fest program as resembling the early films of David Cronenberg. Body horror? Yes! Disturbing? Indeed! The work of filmmakers (Marcel Sarmiento, Gadi Harel) with innovative, artistically daring careers ahead of them? I’m not yet convinced. Deadgirl starts off promisingly enough, as a pair of ne’er-do-well high schoolers (pretty boys Shiloh Fernandez and Noah Segan) stave off boredom by exploring an abandoned mental hospital. But this ain’t slow-burn creepiness like Session 9 (2001); the film’s most original twist the boys find a zombielike woman chained in the basement comes early, and the shocks soon revert to tired torture-porn gross-outs. Naturally, the friends are torn apart by the discovery, even as they both become consumed by it. One’s horny enough to declare the woman/monster do-able, while the other’s a tad more sensitive; it’s not long before an unbelievable mix of emo and necrophilia, and a li’l dab of misogyny, oozes to the surface. Queasy does it.
SAN FRANCISCO INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL
Feb. 522, most shows $11
Roxie, 3117 16th St., SF; Victoria, 2961 16th St., SF; and Shattuck, 2230 Shattuck, Berk.