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BOOK REVIEW: "Silver Screen Fiend" by Patton Oswalt

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BOOK REVIEW: Silver Screen Fiend: Learning About Life from an Addiction to Film by Patton Oswalt (Scribner) 2015

In one way or another, we’re all looking for the manual on how to live our life the way it was intended. Shelves upon shelves are filled with self-help books and recipes to take an ordinary life and make it an extraordinary one.

Each of these books is written by psychiatrists, priests and some pompous, pious people that always found themselves to be better than everyone else. You know, the worst type of narcissist known to mankind.

But have you ever found one written by a comedian?

Chew on that for a second and mull it over. There is no doubt that life is made by the ups and the downs of it all and karma is all right there to ensure a hearty, cringe-worthy laugh in the end.

That is exactly what comedian Patton Oswalt did back in January of 2015.

It would easy to say that Oswalt took the complexities of life and spun it in a comedic black-and-white sense. I could say that all he does in his novel is talk about movies that he loves with little to no sustenance in the middle.

However, to say that would be selling a man with true intellectual thought short and depriving an enjoyable reading experience from anyone who wanted to see what he thought of the world around him.

Around 15 years old, I discovered the ramblings of a lifelong nerd as he made his way through life. Scuffs and scratches intact, of course. The refreshing thing to watch him was that he wasn’t incredibly crass with everything he had to say but he was just enough a dork for me to relate to him. With a touch of inspiring wisdom in what he said, I was hooked.

That’s why, when his book, Silver Screen Fiend: Learning About Life from an Addiction to Film, came onto the shelves, I didn’t hesitate. Being a journalist for two different publications as well as a writer in my spare time, it’s sometimes hard for me to blaze through books as I used to back when I was in grade school.

Not a comment on the public education system; however, it could be.

The book released in stores on January 6, 2015, and I picked it up on January 7. Through sheer luck, I was able to get the second to last copy left on the new best-seller list.

Expecting to laugh throughout the novel, I was pleasantly surprised.

There is something so pure, so sweet about a listening to a person that you can tell that is genuine in this life. Patton oozes of it.

I must be clear that just because a material is genuine doesn’t make for a flawless product.

The novel is the memories of a young Patton as he was a struggling comedian and staff writer for the Fox-owned TV show MAD TV. A time period between ’95 and ’99, this is where we find our hero/anti-hero, a young Oswalt.

As many young artists are, they’re snobby, pretentious and all out for themselves. It could be made out to be a generational thing but, let’s face it, it’s a youth thing.

Oswalt frequents the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles and, by frequent, I mean every night of the week to see either a single or a double feature. The old theater was run by an elderly man named Sherman Torgan who is arguably the hero of our story.

Torgan plays various movies every night in his tiny multiplex on Beverly Boulevard. Ranging anywhere from the newest films of the late 90’s to B-grade monster flicks where you could see the strings hanging off the floating sheet in the cavern of a duskily-lit dungeon.

And for all of them, the reader can find a young Patton.

Balancing the lifestyle of an overactive 20 something-year-old can be as challenging as changing the world by just a word. Oswalt describes his affection towards film became an addiction much like hard drugs.

In this time, he defines himself and others like him as a Sprocket Fiend.

“You're safe in whatever chronal flow the director chooses to take you through. Real-time, or a span of months or years, or backward and forward through a life,” he writes. “You are given the space of a film to steal time. And the projector is your only clock. And the need for that subtle, clicking sprocket time makes you - made me - a sprocket fiend.” 

Many times throughout the novel, Oswalt describes how he would rush between writing for a television show, stand-up gigs and holing himself away in the confines of a theater.

As if this were a movie in its own right, he bookends it all with an anniversary screening of Sunset Boulevard, a 1950 classic movie in about a young screenwriter attempting to manipulate an older actress who cannot let go of the past.

Oswalt takes the time to explain his sense of self-worth and loathing on the side as he works as an up and coming writer in the competitive market of Los Angeles. It’s a known fact that the field of writing and even attempting to be original is as cutthroat of a business as any line of work could produce.

While he’s not immersing himself in a plethora of films and neglecting general human contact outside the walls of the cinema home, he’s working on being famous.

He fails time after time with a growing chip on his shoulder. It had to deal with the all too true problem that many young people have: shooting for the stars not seen by means of being something you’re not.

Not to mention, a sense that you had to fight for everything that you had often led to some altercations along the way.

“Part of being in your twenties is not knowing an ally when you see one,” he writes.

Arguments ensued at MAD TV when Oswalt tried to create a comedic sketch from a recreated moment in a zombie movie that he had seen the night before.

Needless to say, it didn’t go over well.

The beginning of the novel, for the reader, seems almost like an exaggeration in the sense that he talks about his addiction. Nearing the end of it, it makes all the more sense.

Patton winds up alienating almost everyone in his life for the sake of worldly silence and cinematic perfection. As time went by, he would begin to see the fraying edges of his doctrine to film.

No doubt, Oswalt has almost an encyclopedic knowledge when it comes to movies but this came from conditioning in his early 20’s. Along the way, he blends together with different comedic minds such as Pete Holmes and David Cross and understands that life can, and must, continue outside the theater.

A twist near the end of the novel brings all of Patton’s life lessons to a single, unifying message.

To enjoy life as you see fit.

We are brought full circle back to the New Beverly Cinema house in mourning of the owner, Mr. Sherman Torgan. After passing away in 2007, Patton comes back to the theater that he hadn’t been back to in quite some time.

There’s a funny, yet incredibly touching eulogy given by Oswalt in order to thank Torgan for providing some of the greatest, darkest touching times of his life. In words, thanks for being there when I’ve pushed it all away.

By the end of the novel, Patton makes his way out of the old theater to be with his wife and his newly born daughter.

As readers, we can view what he went through in his isolationism with film as a fun list to venture through. Hell, he put the list of movies he’s watched in that time of addiction. But it goes deeper than that.

Oswalt shares his early 20’s experience this way to show that a life is not made by the grand gestures of grand events. It’s made by the small, and often thought, misread circumstances.

“The man is clear in his mind. But his soul is mad.” 

Well said, Patton. Well said.

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About the Author

Brandon King

Brandon King is a journalism student at OCCC, working towards becoming a professional writer....

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