By Caryn James | James on Screens January 11, 2011 at 3:30AM
While he was raking in awards for Crazy Heart last year, Jeff Bridges made a point of thanking his stand-in, Loyd Catlett. Now Catlett, who has observed Bridges at close range over four decades, offers one sly little comment in the American Masters bio Jeff Bridges: The Dude Abides: "Rooster Cogburn is probably the Dude’s great-great-great grandfather.”
This draws a neat line between Bridges’ classic stoner in The Big Lebowski (just try recalling his lines without laughing) and his Old West slacker in True Grit. What stands out even more in this documentary, though, is the versatility of Bridges’ career – from improbable characters like Starman and the Dude, to subtle turns in The Contender and the underrated Tucker: The Man and His Dream. And it’s startling to be reminded how good, how natural, he was from the start. As Peter Bogdanovich, his director on The Last Picture Show , says, “You don’t catch him acting.”
Anyone who followed Bridges through last year’s awards season will know most of what we hear again, from and about him, on this straightforward program. But there are a few gems scattered through. I hadn’t seen the clip of his first professional acting role, as a boy with his father, Lloyd, on Sea Hunt. Maybe he wasn’t so natural that early. And it’s lovely to hear him read from his mother’s diary account of that day. She says he had a great time; he remembers otherwise. The Dude Abides (on PBS Wednesday) isn’t wildly revealing, but it has an easygoing Bridges-like charm.
For a more illuminating glimpse into his mind, beyond acting, I highly recommend a visit to his website. You’ll find a sampling of the evocative, black-and-white on-set photographs he has been taking for years, a section on his music, one on his philanthropic End Hunger Network, and best of all menus with his wacky, colorful, cartoon-like drawings, one with the instruction, “Click it, man.”