The Big Lebowski | 1998
From a so-so opening to box office to a firm favourite, the Coens’ typically offbeat spin on The Big Sleep opens with a bit of Coen misdirection, with a voiceover from a mysteriously omniscient cowboy (Sam Elliott). The Tumblin’ Tumbleweed landscape was filmed at Pearblossom in the desert north of Los Angeles, which was optically added to a nighttime shot looking south over the city from the Simi Valley.
The laid-back Bohemian beachfront enclave of Venice seems the natural home of slacker’s slacker Jeffrey Lebowski (Jeff Bridges), aka the Dude, and that’s exactly where he lives, at 606 Venezia Avenue, a private complex of six bungalows running south from the smart little residential street, just south of Venice Boulevard. The wooden gate and luxuriant foliage don't leave a great deal to see, and please remember this is a private home.
You'll have no problem recognising the stretch of road running down to Zeno Street, where PI Da Fino (Jon Polito) parks his car while keeping an eye on the Dude.
You'd have had to travel to the less welcoming end of Santa Monica Boulevard in East Hollywood to find the site of the bowling alley, where the Dude hangs out with unhinged Viet-vet Walter Sobchak (John Goodman) and the much put-upon Donny (Steve Buscemi). It was Hollywood Star Lanes, 5227 Santa Monica Boulevard, at North Kingsley Drive. Unfortunately, it no longer exists, having been demolished in 2002 to make way for an elementary school of eye-numbing ugliness (OK, I'm biased by what it replaced).
The alley was built in 1962 in the, then cool and futuristic, Googie style of sputniks, ellipses and starbursts. Googie architecture (which is also known as populuxe or doo-wop) was named after Googie's, a coffee shop at Sunset and Crescent Heights in Hollywood, designed in 1949 by architect John Lautner. Predictably, this has been demolished, too.
Southeast of the old bowling alley location, the stretch of North Kenmore Avenue between Monroe Street and Lily Crest Avenue is where pederastic bowling opponent Jesus (John Turturro) carries out his unenviable obligation to knock on doors, telling the neighbours of his past offences.
One, thankfully, remaining example of the Googie style is Johnie’s, 6101 Wilshire Boulevard at Fairfax Avenue in midtown. This is the coffee shop in which the Dude and his overly helpful buddy Walter discuss the possible provenance of Bunny’s toe.
I did get an especially hearty breakfast at Johnie's back in 1996 but in 2000, it closed its doors for good, living on only as a movie and music video location in the likes of American History X, Quentin Tarantino's debut feature Reservoir Dogs, the 2000 update of Gone In 60 Seconds and underrated 1988 thriller Miracle Mile.
Now that the old May's Department Store building across Fairfax Avenue houses the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, it'll be interesting to see what happens to this old movie veteran. Surely it must reopen to cater to the influx of film fans?
The Coens keep a stylistic consistency with the ‘Malibu’ beachfront home of pornographer Jackie Treehorn (Ben Gazzara). It’s nowhere near a beach. It's the Sheats Goldstein Residence, 10104 Angelo View Drive in Benedict Canyon, designed in 1963 by – yes – the Googiemeister himself, John Lautner. You might recognise it as the classy pad of Lucy Liu in Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle. Please note that this is a private home.
If there’s a ‘Beverly Hills’ mansion featured in a Hollywood movie, chances are it will have been filmed in the eastern suburb of Pasadena, which is packed to bursting with lavish estates but charges only a fraction of the rate for film permits. Perversely, the the Big Lebowski’s mansion reverses the practice with a conflation of two Beverly Hills estates being passed off as ‘Pasadena’.
The exterior is the grand 1931 two-and-a-half acre estate at 10231 Charing Cross Road off Sunset Boulevard in the extremely swanky neighbourhood of Holmby Hills, just northwest of Los Angeles Country Club. Predictably, there's not a great deal to see from the street but the mansion, formerly home to ex-L.A. Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, was put on the market a few years ago for $45 million and was subsequently rented out by celeb couple Beyoncé and Jay-Z.
The interior of the house is the familiar Greystone Mansion, 905 Loma Vista Drive in Beverly Hills. The mansion, and its expansive landscaped grounds, are a frequently used location – the same interior was the Green Goblin’s ‘New York’ home in Spider-Man. The formal gardens, though not the mansion itself, are open to the public.
‘Sobchak Security’, Walter’s place of business, is 6757 Santa Monica Boulevard, in the strip mall at at North McCadden Place, Hollywood. It’s from here that Walter and the Dude set out to pay the ransom for Bunny Lebowski.
The bridge from which Walter tosses the ‘ringer’ briefcase, full of his underwear, is on Torrey Road, over the Santa Clara River, south of Hwy 126, Piru. Don't be surprised that it looks a little different from the film – planks were laid over the tarmac surface to make it look like a wooden bridge.
The Dude collects his recovered, if smelly, car from the lot on West 18th Street at St Andrew’s Place, Midtown.
The loft of avant garde artist Maude Lebowski (Julianne Moore) is above the Palace Theater, 630 South Broadway, downtown Los Angeles. The ‘Fountain Theatre’, in which the Dude’s landlord performs his unforgettable dance quintet, was also filmed in the Palace. More recently, the Palace was used for much of the filming of Whiplash – supposedly set in 'New York’. You might recognise the band's rehearsal room as Maude's loft.
The café, where the German nihilists enjoy lingonberry pancakes and pigs in a blanket with the toeless woman, is Dinah’s Family Restaurant, 6521 South Sepulveda Boulevard, Culver City. Another retro joy, dating from 1959, the good news is that – claiming to have served 20 million pancakes – Dinah’s is still very much in business, and appeared more recently as the restaurant in which Jake Gyllenhaal recruits an assistant in Nightcrawler.
Driving south on Cahuenga, the Dude turns into La Mirada Avenue toward Vine Street when, after dropping a roach into his lap, he crashes the car and discovers the homework of little Larry Sellers.
Supposedly on ‘Radford in North Hollywood’, the Sellers home, where the explosive Walter furiously trashes the innocent neighbour's red Corvette as the uncomprehending young Larry looks silently on, is 1824 Stearns Drive between West Pico Boulevard and West 18th Street, in the Fairfax district.
There's been a little remodelling of the house – the front door has been repositioned.
Lesson learned. Now, thanks to Walter, we are all aware of the consequences when you f*** a stranger in the a** – except perhaps for the residents of this smart and quiet street. They were thoughtfully rehoused for the night shoot in order to spare them from the sound of Walter's hilariously obscene tirade.
• Many thanks to Daryl Barnett for help with this section.