The Big Lebowski opened in 1998 to mixed reviews and a so-so box office. Fresh off the smash success of their breakthrough 1996 movie Fargo, Joel and Ethan Coen had raised critics' expectations for yet another dark, demented comedy in the vein of Raising Arizona or Blood Simple. Instead, the brothers threw everybody for a loop with the wandering tale of laid-back, dope-smoking slacker Jeff "The Dude" Lebowski (Jeff Bridges), who's mistaken for a crime kingpin of the same name and soon finds himself embroiled in some very risky business.
Reviewers weren't sure what to think about this strange stew, a film peopled with bizarre characters like a volatile Vietnam vet (John Goodman), a sleazy Latino bowler (John Turturro), and a threatening band of German nihilist assassins who suspiciously resembled the band Kraftwerk. But fans of freaky cinema soon discovered a flick worthy of veneration when Lebowski hit video stores, transforming the box office failure into a bona fide midnight-movie hit. Tonight, East Bay artists' co-op Oaklandish pays tribute to what it calls the "Cult of Lebowski" with the "Liberation Drive-In," an outdoor screening of the flick followed by "The Lebowski Garden Party," a cavalcade of film-related events including trivia and costume contests, blacktop bowling, Dude-compliant music, and a bar serving (what else?) White Russians, the Dude's signature drink. Zip up your bowling jumpsuit, make sure you have a radio (so that you can hear the movie's broadcast dialogue), and drive on in at 8 p.m. at Lot 69, 1515 Harrison (at 15th Street), Oakland. Admission is $5; call (510) 451-2677 or visit www.oaklandish.org.
-- Joyce Slaton
Some gay and lesbian folks want to get legally married and settle down in a little house with a white picket fence to raise 2.5 children. And some consider that scenario a white-bread nightmare. Mattilda, aka Matt Bernstein Sycamore, falls firmly in the latter category, and in the anthology he edited, That's Revolting! Queer Strategies for Resisting Assimilation, he and contributors such as Patrick Califia, Carol Queen, and local transgender activist Charlie Anders let loose a torrent of criticism on queer culture's mainstream movement. Join Mattilda and various Revolting! writers at the "That's Revolting Book Launch" party at 6 p.m. in the Main Library's Latino/Hispanic Community Meeting Room, 100 Larkin (at Grove), S.F. Admission is free; call 557-4400 or visit www.sfpl.org.
-- Joyce Slaton
Piece of Cake
Yes indeed, I'm walking
Walking in a circle in time to music and stopping on squares that represent cakes is weird. But cakewalking -- the official name for that odd enterprise -- is a grand, if fading, American tradition. Begun by slaves to make fun of the stilted dancing of white slave owners, the endeavor (which might win you a delicious homemade confection) gives us the phrase "takes the cake" and later spawned ragtime music. At "Cakewalk 2: A Build Benefit," the crew at the inventive art space has commissioned artist-designed cakes, a historical chat, and more for a fund-raising competition. Although the whole thing brings to mind ladies in huge hats and men in seersucker suits, just imagine what the San Francisco art scene can do with it. Walk the walk at 7 p.m. at Build, 483 Guerrero (at 17th Street), S.F. Admission is free; call 863-3041.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser
Shiny Pretty Things
Germán Herrera's illusory images
They're dreamy, slightly confusing, and so beautiful they induce a trancelike state. The heavily manipulated images in Germán Herrera's exhibit "A Book of Mirrors" look almost old-fashioned because the black-and-white photos are focused as much on texture as on content. Ask yourself what you're seeing, and the honest answer may simply be "leaves." So why is there clearly a human form walking toward you? "He's shooting with a digital camera, three to four images for each finished print," says Brad Polt-Jones, co-owner of the Fusion Artspace gallery. One particular picture "is four images: one of some cracks in a wall, one of cement, a part of a sculpture, and then a piece of paint that was peeling." The result, aided by meticulous printing, is pure eye candy. Look in "Mirrors" through Oct. 9 at Fusion Artspace, 531 Howard (at First Street), S.F. Admission is free; call 618-0141 or visit www.fusionartspace.com.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser
Our Main Squeeze
The world lost more than a great cook when Julia Child died on Aug. 13. The woman was not just a simple sauce-maker; she was an icon, a legend, and the progenitor of legions of modern American foodies. So what better way to pay her homage than to, um, listen to a man in drag playing songs about her on the accordion? Kielbasia, a regular at the "Va Va Voom Room" burlesque shows, presents a "Tribute to Julia Child,"an afternoon of singalongs, homemade nibbles, Julia stories, and tunes revering the chef's life and recipes, at 4 p.m. at Martuni's, 4 Valencia (at Market), S.F. Admission is $5; call 241-0205 or visit www.kielbasia.com.
-- Joyce Slaton