my Book

Book Details

Title:   Silver Screen Fiend
Author:   Patton Oswalt
Times Read:   1
Last Read:   05.27.23

Other Books Read By This Author (0)

Notes History
Date Read Note
05.27.23 subtitle: Learning About Life from an Addiction to Film.

This was a long-ago recommendation from Micah and I approached it thinking it would be like an essay or treatise on the nature of film obsession. What I found is half memoir of a period in his life where he went to the theater a lot (still spending equal time talking about comedy and different rooms he played, jobs he had, etc.) and the other half of the book is a collection of various smaller film-related pieces he wrote over the years (including a few Aint It Cool News pieces). And finally, if you're going by kindle word count rather than page number, 30% of the book is a tally of all the movies he saw in a theater during the mid- to late-nineties.

I typically like Oswalt and think he's funny. I had a brief encounter with him once at sxsw where I remember him being funny and normal, but I have to say I wasn't in love with everything in this book.

I think it's mostly a case of misaligned expectations because I found his thoughts on comedy and remembrances of rooms that had an impact on his life kinda wordy and filled with strained references that feel to me like he's trying to make the book funny. Granted, book humor is also an area I don't really respond to so that's another thing that's probably more on me than on the book. But the main thing is that he frames the whole book, this descent into a kind of rabid movie-watching addiction, as an unhealthy somewhat deluded chapter in his life that was ultimately unsuccessful.

Now, the obvious reaction is that my problem with that is due to ME being someone who did the exact same thing, and I suppose that's valid... but the book forms this exercise as a means to an end, like Patton wanted to be a director so you become one by watching a bunch of movies and if he hadn't had aspirations of making movies then he wouldn't have bothered watching them. The fact that a ton of people watch movies and are passionate about them just because they like them doesn't seem to factor in for him, so when he gets to the end of the memoir and feels defeat of going to the New Beverly for four years and not having written a screenplay yet, that bothered me a bit.

But it's funny because he went on a very similar journey as me, just ten years prior and in a place that had more than one repertory theater. And although my feelings on the subject today hold no regrets for watching and collecting and loving all these movies and not actually making one, I suppose if I think back to my mindset in 2005 when I was living at the Alamo Drafthouse then I DID have some of those aspirations at the time. So maybe my disappointment with this book is really just my own insecurities reflected, who knows.

I do think there's something to that itch that I shared with my friends and Patton where you approach movie-watching almost like a game to be won. Who can see the most, who can see it earliest, who can see the most obscure craziest hard-to-see thing and brag about it to anyone who'll listen. It doesn't matter if the movie is actually good or not, I SAW it! and I saw it FIRST! And, as with all things, indulging in that too much without a balance in the rest of your life can be unhealthy. But movies are also made to be watched. I'm sure the New Bev and the Alamo and every other arthouse or rep theater in the world survives on more than just ravenous would-be film students. They don't deserve dismissal just because they're not planning to contribute to the medium. I guess I'm repeating myself at this point.

I wound up liking the second half of the book more. The random film essays or reviews were, while random, at least explicitly about movies and not movies in the context of an autobiography. My favorite was probably Patton's dream programming for New Bev icon Sherman Torgan. Films that don't exist down here but almost happened or should've happened that do exist and can be screened in heaven. Even the list at the end held some interest as it evoked where I was during that time period. If I'd lived in LA and had a little more awareness, I probably would've been there a few rows ahead of Patton for a lot of those, but instead I was a high-schooler in a land of mall-multiplexes then a college student with ambitious yet still limited tastes. It still irks me that I didn't discover that the George Eastman house actually showed movies rather than just sat there as a museum. We were spending every friday at the new Tinseltown and seeing the fresh harsh late-90s indies at The Little instead of all over LA where Patton saw them.

In the end, had I read the blurb and known this was an autobiography that used film as a framing device, I probably would've enjoyed this more, but I still think it's a valuable read for where it led me to examine my feelings about 2005 - 2007 and beyond.

my Book