Through the years, I’ve come to really appreciate Patton Oswalt as a comedian and as a person. Not only does he offer witty and hilarious points of view on life, but his passion for comedy seems to have a magnetic force that pulls his audience in and makes them hang on to his every word. Patton also has a huge love for film and an almost encyclopedic knowledge of it, including the dates of release, actors, directors, interesting facts during filming: the list goes on and on. And with his book Silver Screen Fiend: Learning About Life from an Addiction to Film, he perfectly blends his two passions into a very engrossing story of his time in the 90s as an up and coming stand up comedian with an obsession for film.
The book takes place between 1995 and 1999, beginning when he sees Sunset Boulevard at the New Beverly Cinema and ending when he sees Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. Between these two movies, his career as a comedian begins to take off, along with his acting career. But as his career begins to build, what starts out as a hobby with him watching movies, turns into a strange obsession that forces him to catch several classic films a week at the expense of his social life and relationships. It’s fascinating to read his self-described descent into madness as he writes about how far down the rabbit hole he goes, before he’s able to pull himself out.
Patton’s honesty about his struggle to find his voice in comedy and acting career make him sympathetic throughout the book, and even though you know he succeeds in the end, you can’t help but root for him. He tells story after story of trying to learn how to become a great comedian by his successes, like at The Largo, where he finds a crowd that truly appreciates his style, or by crushing defeats as he was poorly received from different crowds on the road. These stories really show his determination and you become very invested as Patton slowly comes into his own. These sections really shine throughout the book, and keep you turning the page to find out if he’ll hit another major success or go down in flames at another gig. This is where the true narrative of the book comes through, and as he uses his film addiction as a background to his main story, it adds some real depth by showing where his head and his heart truly belonged. But his tales of going to the cinema several days out of the week in the hopes of learning more about the art form are often very funny, and often very insightful as he talks about why the films that he’s seeing are so great. He talks about the different styles of movies that impress him, actors and actresses that he believes are the best at their craft, directors that revolutionized the industry and pushed it forward, and many more things that show he really knows what he’s talking about. He does a good job of balancing these stories with his tales of being on the road as a comedian and keeps the pace of his book very quick, by changing things up enough so that every new story seems fresh.
Patton also has a deep understanding of pop culture and weaves interesting references and facts throughout Silver Screen Fiend that add to the book. The facts he gives are fascinating and keep the reader wanting to learn more, making you feel smarter for having read them. He does this by referencing old movie lines that he applies to his life and stories of past artists that he says inspire him. These stories add another great layer to the book by giving the reader insight into how Patton sees life and how he’s affected by art, whether it be in a good way or bad. The best reference toward art that he uses to explain major changes in his life, is when he talks about Vincent Van Gogh’s “The Night Café”. Patton tells how Van Gogh slowly went insane after making “The Night Café”, and that even though this painting inspired him to make more masterpieces, it ultimately led to his downfall, since he was forced to acknowledge his mental problems and inner demons while making them. Patton uses this story to explain the moments in his life when something occurs, and it changes his outlook on life forever. Reading these parts of the book really help the reader to gain an intimate knowledge of the author, and give a deeper meaning to his other stories.
My one real complaint about the book is its length, with it coming in at only a little more than 200 pages. Even though every chapter was packed full of hilarious stories and interesting details about his personal life, you get the “Is that it?” feeling when you finish the last chapter and are left wanting so much more from him. In a way, that’s a great reaction for an author to get when somebody finishes their book, but it would have been great to get just a few more chapters of him talking about how life on the road is for a comedian or how certain pieces of art inspire him today.
Silver Screen Fiend is an absorbing and insightful book that makes you laugh as much as it makes you think about comedy, film, and how they apply to daily life. Patton shows his trademark wit and knowledge of all things pop culture that can prove infectious to the reader. This is a great book for his already existing fans, as his unique style of comedy and signature wit are etched into every sentence, but with its quick pace and hilarious insight, it can also appeal to people who aren’t as familiar with him as well.