Silver Screen Fiend: Learning About Life from an Addiction to Film by Patton OswaltJanuary 28, 2015
Silver Screen Fiend: Learning About Life from an Addiction to Film by Patton Oswalt (Scribner, $25) is the comedian and actor’s account of a time in his life in the 1990s when he was addicted to moviegoing, watching new and and classic films at least three nights a week at Los Angeles revival house New Beverly Cinema. Oswalt (whose 2011 collection of personal essays about his teenage years absorbing pop culture in suburban Virginia, Zombie Spaceship Wasteland, is also worthwhile) has penned a clear-eyed and not always self-flattering confession that far less about the films he watched at New Beverly than the time he spent away from the theater, trying to refine his standup act and come up with material for his day job as a writer for MADtv. It’s about his education as an artist.
The Patton Oswalt depicted here is often callow and prickly, and in retrospect a little too smug about some of the things he’s had to overcome — untalented hacks, provincial “giggle-shack” venues — but it never feels less than honest. He doesn’t present himself as a particularly nice or warm guy, and he probably isn’t. But he is an intelligent and very funny writer, and probably his own best critic. Of his early standup attempts he writes:
“I was still in that awkward stage where my ideas were simpler and less startling than I cared to admit, so I masked that with a lot of unnecessarily ornate vocabulary and dense cultural references.”
While this tendency for over-elaboration occasionally seeps into his writing (Oswalt is at his best at his most straightforward; he occasionally stretches for a metaphor he cannot quite corral), Silver Screen Fiend is a breezy and relatable account of a man who found himself spending far too much time alone in the dark, surrounded by strangers.
“Movies,” he writes, “are an enhancement to life. The way a glass of wine complements a dinner. I’m the other way around.”