Friday, December 26, 2014

Screen Saver

Silver Screen Fiend: Learning About Life from an Addiction to Film
by Patton Oswalt

4 out of 5 bags of stale popcorn.

(I received a free advance copy of this via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)

Comedian and actor Patton Oswalt wrote this unflinching account of his battle with addiction during the late ‘90s, but he didn’t spend his days cooking meth with bikers or whoring himself out for crack.  Poor Patton was a movie junkie who found plenty of dealers to get him high in the theaters of Los Angeles.

A double feature of Billy Wilder films at the New Beverly Cinema was the gateway drug that led Patton down a relentless path of devouring movies and cataloging them in a diary as well as notations in several film books he had. His work and his relationships suffered as he became unable to relate to other people’s every day interests that weren't related to movies, and he rationalized his behavior by thinking that it would eventually give him the insight to make a great film of his own.  His descent continued until he hits bottom shortly after seeing Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.  Which is understandable because a lot of us never felt like seeing a movie again after that one.

Ah, but seriously folks…

I noted in my review of  Oswalt’s Zombie Spaceship Wasteland that I found the darker elements of that memoir intriguing, but that he’d seemed a little scared of making it  too personal and sincere so he’d inserted segments of pure humor  in it as deflections.  Here we have him recounting a period when he feels like he let his love of movies of get the better of him, and how coming to terms with that changed the way he approached his own career as well as what was really important to him as a person.  Since this is a professional comedian telling the story, it’s still funny, but it doesn’t seem like he’s using humor as a shield like it did in his previous book.

Here’s the tricky part for me about reviewing this:  I’m a Patton Oswalt fan who finds him not only hilarious but also an actor capable of great work in both TV and film.  I love reading about what creative people think about the process of actually turning ideas into something that can be shared.  I’ll also confess to being a movie junkie.  While I’ve never chased the dragon as hard as Patton did, I am the kind of person who is perfectly happy to kill an afternoon at  a special showing of Seven Samurai or spend the better part of a day in a Marvel movie marathon.  When Patton tells a story about seeing Last Man Standing and subjecting the friend he was with to the whole history of how it’s actually the same story as A Fistful of Dollars which is pretty much a remake of Kurosawa’s Yojimbo which was heavily influenced by Dashiell Hammet’s Red Harvest, it made me cringe because I said the same exact thing to the person I saw it with, too.

So this book obviously hit a sweet spot for me, but I could see another reader (Someone who doesn’t have their own custom I HATE!  I HATE! coffee mug based on Oswalt’s Text routine.) maybe not liking this book quite so much.  Such a person might point out that Patton is essentially berating his younger self for the time spent on his movie obsession rather than creating his own work as well as lamenting the time he didn’t spend with friends and family.  And they’d have a valid point.

Because for all his self-criticism here, it’s a little odd that Patton doesn’t give himself more credit for what he was accomplishing at the time which was turning himself into a top-notch comedian by performing relentlessly as well as landing regular work in the movies and on TV.  Yeah, maybe he was on King of Queens for years instead of making his own Citizen Kane, but that helped him get to a point where he’s got to do other things like his great and disturbing performance as a sports nut in Big Fan.  And now he’s married and has a daughter that he loves dearly so he figured out that whole work/life balance thing, right?

So what exactly is this guy bitching about?  That he wasted a lot of time in the ‘90s watching movies?  Hell, we all did that.

However, it the book works for you, then you‘ll find a lot more than that.  It’s hard to break down the stew of events and small epiphanies that make us who we are, and that’s what Patton has tried to do here.  He’s describing a period when he wasn't satisfied with what he was doing and was flailing around for answers by immersing himself obsessively in something he loved.  He did finally learn something from all his time watching movies, but it wasn't what he went looking for.  Maybe he didn’t become Quentin Tarantino, but he did grow into being Patton Oswalt.  And like a lot of his fans, I’m happy it worked out that way.

Hey, I just got an email from Alamo Drafthouse telling me that they’re having a screening of The Apartment this weekend.  Maybe I should check that out….

Also posted at Goodreads.

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