Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Review: Patton Oswalt's "Silver Screen Fiend"

Silver Screen Fiend
Patton Oswalt
2015
Scribner
New York City

Review by BRAD WEISMANN

It’s riveting to be made to understand late in life that you are nuts. Such was the initial fallout of my reading comedian Patton Oswalt’s second memoir. Gee, I would never have characterized my arts obsessions and need to see all of every subject’s work, my snotty cineaste pretentiousness, as counterproductive. Ulp.

In “Silver Screen Fiend,” Oswalt hits the trifecta – he takes a life-sapping obsession and simultaneously exorcises it, celebrates it, and exploits it. It’s like this: Oswalt went through a four-year period of compulsive movie-watching, during a period when he added comedy writing for television and sitcom acting to his resume, finding his way through the entertainment ecosystem. We get to sit through hundreds of nights of weird flicks with him, and track him as he stumbles through Hollywood.

“Silver Screen Fiend” is well-written and entertaining, chock-full of the baroquely couched and erudite observations that are Oswalt’s trademark. He zooms in and out of significant events, deftly analyzing the social dynamics of the key comedy venues that enabled his growth as a performer, and cracking so wise about his errors and delusions that you feel a friendly, kindred spirit is talking to you through the pages.

And, film junkies, there’s more! Oswalt has the gonads to throw in a program he concocts of films that never got made, but wouldn’t it be cool if they had? Nice. Along with the four-year list of all the movies he saw, and when and where he saw them. Hey, he acknowledges he had a problem. It’s still fun to riffle through it.

Caveat: I was a comic for years and I still report extensively about film, so both parallels of narrative here fascinate me. He has a lot of wisdom to share with young and/or aspiring artists – basically, quit bitching and do your work. We could all use that little reminder from time to time.