Shards from the Memory Palace #3 Bad Words and Good Times at the Sportsmen's Lodge
The punishing, incredibly demanding production schedule of Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place and Nathan Rabin’s Happy Cast pretty much ensures that I never watch a movie solely for pleasure. No, if I am going to devote 90 minutes of my life to watching a movie, my brain angrily insists that I also feed the insatiable beast that is my website and podcast in the process.
There are exceptions, however. I watched Diablo Cody’s muddled 2013 directorial debut Paradise about a month ago with an eye towards not writing about it, but by the end felt like I’d found a fairly solid if less than transcendent My World of Flops candidate.
On a similar note, I rented a DVD of the 2013 Jason Bateman directorial effort Bad Words thinking this would be the rare movie that I did not feel the need to cover for the website or one of my outside columns. That lasted about twenty minutes, until the action in Jason Bateman’s Bad Santa meets Wordplay comedy of profanity switched unexpectedly but joyously to beautiful Studio City, California and Sportsmen’s Lodge, an exquisitely seedy hotel in Studio City that was my home away from home when I spent fourteen surreal weekends traveling to Los Angeles from my hometown of Chicago every Saturday to be a regular on the poorly rated, increasingly reputable basic-cable panel show Movie Club with John Ridley.
At the time I saw Movie Club as a bit of a seedy, second-rate operation in itself but since the show was mercifully put down by AMC in 2005 separate alum have won the Academy Award (John Ridley for 12 Years a Slave) and the McArthur Genius Grant (Josh Kun) so I guess it’s not quite as disreputable as I imagined.
Oh, but merely seeing the inside of the Sportsmen’s Lodge brought back a bittersweet flood of memories! It sparked the cinematic equivalent of a Proustian reverie. I was instantly transported fourteen years in time, back to the giddy days of 2004 and 2005 when I was not only a professional critic with benefits and life insurance and a salary but I was also a professional film critic in multiple mediums: in print and online as the head writer of the A.V Club and on television as a panelist on Movie Club.
I could all but smell and feel the taste of the grilled salmon and Cobb salad I’d order in the Sportsmen’s Lodge restaurant every Saturday night as part of my weekly ritual. I’d fly in during the morning, have my dinner of salmon and salad at the restaurant, then head to my room by the pool to imbibe screwdrivers and go over my script for the next day’s show, memorizing my review and practicing my “spontaneous” wisecracks.
Oh, how I loved the Sportsmen’s Lodge! It was a place out of time, a true memory palace. Watching Bad Words made me fall in love with it all over again. It looked exactly how I remembered it looking but also feeling: like a weird world onto itself, the most exquisitely L.A place in all of Los Angeles.
It’s the kind of place where you can easily imagine an independent film like Bad Words getting filmed, but also porn films and even the occasional snuff film. It has a lot of character, is what I’m saying. Even for Hollywood.
Bad Words makes fantastic use of the Sportsmen’s Lodge. Half the movie takes place at my old Hollywood haunt. Just as Native Americans famously used every part of the buffalo, Bad Words uses seemingly every room in the hotel brilliantly. It’s not just the film’s setting, it’s a character as well, a character I could not get enough of. Not unlike New York in They Came Together.
Seeing the Sportsmen’s Lodge made me deeply nostalgic for Los Angeles for the first time in years. I don’t really think about my time as a major television star, not unlike Ted Danson or Matt LeBlanc, very often because that shit happened a very long time ago. A decade and a half ago. I am a veritable lifetime removed from my weird stint on AMC before it, you know, became AMC.
But I also don’t think about Movie Club because it’s yet another professional endeavor that started with all of the hope and optimism and delusional faith in the world and ended prematurely and painfully.
The end of Movie Club didn’t affect me as deeply or profoundly as the end of my relationships with The A.V Club and The Dissolve because it seemed like a goddamn cosmic fluke that I was ever on television in the first place. I was not, and am not, a TV guy. I’m not slick. I don’t belong in a visual medium. I’m a writer. I write. That’s what I do. I am not a talking head.
Yet I fucking loved doing Movie Club because I loved movies and I loved being on TV, my God and only friend as a child, and I loved staying at the Sportsmen’s Lodge. Television may not have been my bag but I am grateful for the long-ago opportunity to embarrass myself on basic cable and the weird, weirdly wonderful memories it created.
I’d love to go back to Los Angeles in the not too distant future. I’d love to do the podcast circuit to promote the forthcoming The Weird Accordion to Al book and while I really should stay on a friend’s couch to save money, I am sorely tempted to splurge and spend at least a couple more nights at the Sportsmen’s Lodge. It’d be a real blast from the past in more ways than one.
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