The Dude in film

"Two righteous dudes, on an epic quest to become the greatest rock and roll band of all time!" That's the story behind Tenacious D: The Pick of Destiny (2006), a rock 'n' roll comedy in which Jack Black and his buddy Kyle Gass embark on a mission to find a plectrum made from a devil's tooth, which will thus transform them into guitar gods. It's a film that also happens to mark the return of the coolest character in cinematic history: the dude. JB and KG are the latest additions to the canon by the fact they subscribe to the following modern-day slacker dude pre-requisites: they're stoners, devoid of social responsibility, have a penchant for profanity laden "dude" parlance, and of course - an unquestionable devotion to the devil's music.

Quintessentially American, Dudes have swaggered around on the big screen since the early days of film but the Western was the first genre to popularise the term, where a cowboy could be referred to as "dude". However the 1960s, a decade of drugs, debauchery and rock 'n' roll, and the era of New American cinema, laid down the foundations for the slacker dude of today. Take Easy Rider (1969), with its flawed characters such as Captain America (Peter Fonda) and Billy (Dennis Hopper) whose daily existence revolved around consuming illegal substances, discovering the importance of male bonding, living on the fringes of society, "sticking it to the man" and leading a non-conformist lifestyle.

Like most characters in movies, the Dude goes on a journey of "discovery", if not always a drug-related one. The 1980s dude, ushered in by Keanu Reeves, whose character Bill demonstrated his love of the D-word by pronouncing it 10 times in 15 minutes, ended up on a time-travelling adventure in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989) in order to find famous figures for their history project. The journey isn't always of the dude's own doing, however. Perhaps the most laconic dude in cinema - Jeff Bridges' character in The Big Lebowski (1998), aptly titled The Dude - gets caught up in a case of mistaken identity, in which he plays up all his dudester attributes of slackerdom, even pointing to a raised toilet seat to prove he is not the multimillionaire that the thugs seek. All of which is in vain.

Despite living a laid-back lifestyle, more often than not the Dude ends up dallying with the dark side. In Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey (1991), the aforementioned protagonists end up confronted by their evil selves and playing chess and twister with Death. In Tenacious D, Black and Gass come face to face with the Devil in the form of the Foo Fighters' Dave Grohl. Fortunately, their adherence to the altar of rock saves the day; JB and KG put pedal to the metal with their rock anthem Beelzeboss The Final Showdown; Bill and Ted and their later dude incarnations, Wayne and Garth quote rock lyrics for guidance. Or just use it as an excuse for a good mosh - what is possibly the most famous sequence of Wayne's World (1992) sees protagonist Wayne and Garth banging their heads frantically to Bohemian Rhapsody in their car.

The 90s saw dude parlance pop up in TV shows and movies everywhere - notably those by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, South Park and the film BASEketball (1998), where the characters have an argument consisting entirely of the word dude. Dialogue from dude-based films has inspired entire movies. Well one, Dude Where's My Car (2000), a film which featured a stoned dog and where levels of stupidity reached new heights. Directed by Danny Leiner, the search for Ashton Kutcher's motor involves encounters with bubblewrap wearing sci-fi weirdoes, a cross-dressing psycho and hot chicks. And all because Walter in the Big Lebowski said "Dude, Where's Your Car?" Or so we reckon.

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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