Last fall, the North Carolina Museum of Art called with an unusual proposition. As part of the museum’s annual “The Dude Abides Party,” did I want to conduct an onstage interview with country singer Jimmie Dale Gilmore, about his appearance in the movie “The Big Lebowski”?
As a matter of fact, yes. Yes, I did.
And I knew the very first question I was going to ask: Did Smokey go over the line?
Gilmore appears in what is arguably the most iconic scene in “The Big Lebowski,” which turns 20 years old today – and it’s the scene that just about everybody remembers from the film. Gilmore is barely onscreen for more than a minute, but it’s as memorable as it is brief.
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It shows a weird confrontation at a bowling alley between Smokey, a bowler played by Gilmore, and John Goodman’s troubled character, Walter. It starts with Walter accusing Smokey of a line violation on a throw.
“Over the line!...Smokey, this is not ’Nam. This is bowling. There are rules.”
Smokey insists he didn’t cross the line, tempers flare and the situation quickly escalates into an expletive-filled tirade. Finally, Walter decides to take things to the next level.
“Smokey, my friend,” Walter says, pulling a handgun out of his bowling-ball bag, “you’re entering a world of pain.”
Under protest and at gunpoint, Smokey gives in and marks his frame zero.
“It’s a league game, Smokey,” Walter says by way of explanation as he puts the gun away.
So…did he cross the line?
Gilmore said that question is almost always the first thing anybody ever asks him about “The Big Lebowski.”
But it’s a secret he has vowed to take to his grave. He’s never told, he said, and he never will.
Happy birthday, “The Big Lebowski.”
Meanwhile, “The Big Lebowski” is actually coming back to theaters for a limited run via the Turner Classic Movies Big Screen Classics series; but the catch is it’s not until August. It will be showing Aug. 5 and 8 in three Triangle theaters.