The Paley Center for Media presents American Masters: “Jeff Bridges: The Dude Abides”

Allison Loring

by: Allison Loring
January 12th, 2011

The American Masters program highlights the lives and work of artists from musicians to painters to actors and, to kick off their twenty-seventh season, they found a man who embodies all these traits. Jeff Bridges is a true Renaissance man who is not only an actor, but also a painter, a sculptor, a musician, and a photographer.

Titled Jeff Bridges: The Dude Abides, the program shows us Bridges is not far from the perpetually laidback Dude he plays in THE BIG LEBOWSKI, but at the same time he is much more than just the performer we have seen on screen over the past forty years.

Having grown up in a show business family (Bridges’ father, Lloyd Bridges, and mother, Dorothy Bridges, were both actors, as is his brother, Beau Bridges) it seemed inevitable that Jeff would go into the “family business” and become an actor as well. Like most children not wanting to follow the plan their parents set out for them, Bridges felt that while he certainly had the need to be creative, that outlet might be found through his interest in music and art rather than acting. Bridges’ even recorded a track (“Lost In Space”) with Quincy Jones for the film JOHN AND MARY (1969) and it seemed that he may have found a way into entertainment without following the path of his parents and brother.

Although hesitant at first, Bridges soon found himself taken by the world of filmmaking, as he saw it to be a communal art form with the film itself simply the souvenir at the end of a greater journey. Bridges' fascination with the creative process in making a film became tangible as he began taking still photographs of his time on set. His camera of choice has always been the Widelux panoramic which has a moving lens to give you a wider shot. Bridges was first introduced to this style of camera when it was used to take one of his class pictures and his wife, Susan Bridges, gave him his own as a wedding present. Since filming STARMAN in 1984, Bridges has photographed all the film sets he has worked on and compiles those photos into an album for the cast and crew at the end of the shoot. The majority of these photos are available only to those lucky enough to work on a film with Bridges, but a collection of these mementos can also be seen in the book Pictures by Jeff Bridges (2003).

With interviews and inside perspective on Bridges from cast mates such as Robin Williams, John Goodman, and Cybill Shepherd to family members from brother Beau to wife Susan, one thing is clear, Bridges is not only well-loved, he is also admired and leaves a lasting and positive imprint on those around him. Due to his laidback, almost surfer dude attitude, it is easy to write him off as a bit of a goof who lucked in to the majority of his success, and although Bridges himself notes that nepotism was one of the many reasons he was hesitant to begin acting, looking back over his career his talent is both obvious and awe inspiring because it truly seems effortless.

This installment of the American Masters program was screened at the Paley Center for Media in Los Angeles Saturday night, January 8, where Bridges was joined by series creator and executive producer Susan Lacy and director and writer Gail Levin to discuss the process of creating the program. Wanting each episode to feel as though it is being told from the perspective of their subject, Lacy and Levin decided to forgo the use of a narrator to guide the story and in doing so succeeded in creating a program infused with Bridges easygoing style.

The different “chapters” throughout the program are marked by Bridges painting on a large piece of Plexiglas and in turn literally creating his view of the different films he has worked on along with portraits of his family. Bridges noted that this assignment was one that he was most excited about when creating the program and it really showcased his ability and skill as a painter.

The one moment in the episode that Bridges noted “rubbed his fur the wrong way” was a comment from director Peter Bogdanovich saying he felt Bridges was holding back his best work until after his father passed away as a way to keep himself from becoming more successful than his father. Bridges explained that he always felt any of his success was an extension of both his parents and that it was more of a relay race where he was simply passed the baton rather than a competition. Bridges noted that he always had a great relationship with his parents and entertained the audience with an anecdote about how he would take his 93 year old mother out to dinner and as he would help her into the car, to shock the people around them, he would say, “Come on – get in the car, bitch!” and they would both crack up at the horror of anyone within earshot.

When asked what projects he is working on now, Bridges said that while he does not have any new films on the horizon, this year he will be focusing on his upcoming album, which he is currently working on with producer T Bone Burnett (to be released through Blue Note Records) and his involvement with the No Kid Hungry organization working to stop childhood hunger in America.

Jeff Bridges: The Dude Abides airs Wednesday, January 12th at 8:00pm ET on PBS.

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