Patton Oswalt’s book Silver Screen Fiend is one that I have been hunting like a giant squid patiently stalking its prey, and when I finally spotted it in a cosy Melbourne bookshop, I’ll never forget the lightning-fast impulsivity at which I snatched it from the shelf and bought it for $25. It’s a whimsical yet gripping tale of addiction and growth, with Patton Oswalt’s anecdotes of his various experiences as a stand-up comedian, a cinephile and a human being. The outrageous nature of his addiction (in Chapter 6, his schedule is shown to include five movies a day!) drives the comedy of the book as much as it does the tension, where Patton’s relationships and lifestyles begin to crumble due to his addiction (he likens his stack of film encyclopaedias to a Pagan offering).
Patton’s narrative style and conversational tone make the book almost feel like a one-man play that is several hours long. Fortunately, the book rarely gets boring (especially if you’re a film geek like me who relishes the film references), and is driven by countless anecdotes that swing from rapturously funny to harrowingly tense. For example, we awkwardly observe in Chapter 4 a drunken Lawrence Tierney deliver “the best DVD commentary I’ve ever heard” while watching Citizen Kane, while in Chapter 7, we are oddly drawn towards Patton’s self-confessed snobbery towards normal moviegoers who treat movies “the way a glass of wine complements a dinner”. Another thing about Silver Screen Fiend that I absolutely adore is Patton’s quirky yet innovative system of jargon and terminology. He refers to film buffs as “sprocket fiends” (named after the sprockets in projectors) and powerful life-changing experiences as “Night Cafes” (named after Vincent van Gogh’s painting of the same name). I can easily see myself using both of these expressions in my own personal life.
The only beef I had with Silver Screen Fiend was the Collected Writings on Film section, which felt like an unnecessary, overly long and overly-esoteric doppelgänger of Patton’s appendix of films he saw in the late 90s. Fortunately, if you stop reading the book after Patton’s eulogy towards Sherman Torgan, this is an inconsequential complaint. Moreover, the rest of the book is highly entertaining and very well written. I should also mention that there are several cameos from Patton’s posse of comedian friends who are now big names in the stand-up business , including Louis CK, Bob Odenkirk, Brian Posehn and Blaine Capatch.
My favourite chapter of the whole book is ‘The End of the Addiction’, where Patton describes how, after watching Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace, he experienced several epiphanies (or ‘kicks’ as he calls them) that made him rethink his attitude and habits towards cinema and filmmaking. The main message of this chapter, which is guaranteed to impact any reader, regardless of their passion for film, is - “here I am [….] failing to see that the four hours of pontificating and connecting and correcting his work could be spent creating two or three pages of my own.” In particular, I like Patton’s usage of metaphors as well as his references to the very start of the book, such as “Billy Wilder stuck the needle in. Four years later, George Lucas yanks the needle out.”
Although I have absolutely no intention of replicating Patton’s slavish, all-consuming, compulsive habit of seeing movies in the theatre (he boasts having seen 261 movies in 1996 just in theatres), I have been inspired to be more open towards cinema past and present, be it undeniable classics that every film buff has to see (eg. Sunset Boulevard) or more esoteric choices that are just great films. Patton brings in his sense of humour from his hilarious standup routines to create a book that is unfailingly fun to read no matter how many times you do so.
Rating - ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ¼
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