I like Patton Oswalt. I appreciate his appreciation of things. He is a nerd; he knows how to be a fan. His standup can be biting, but is not devoid of wonder, awe, of fully investing in something. He loves good standup, he loves funny people, he loves cinema.
In Silver Silver Screen Fiend, Oswalt relives the mid-90s in a memoir that ties together his early creative career and his concurrent obsession with film. He divides segments of his early years as different Night Cafes, which is a convoluted but appropriate metaphorical reference to Vincent van Gogh’s Night Cafe (pictured above).
The first few chapters see Patton travel around the country as something of a mainstream comedian. Eventually he meets the forerunners of and and helps found the alt comedy scene. His observations on the appeal of standup are revealing:
“Once you walked onstage you rented, if only for five minutes, a kingdom where you owned the air, you owned time, you owned silence, you owned attention and indifference and defeat and failure. If you could master that kingdom, you could trade up for bigger and bigger kingdoms…I copped, immediately, to one of the first and most enduring bonuses to being a comedian: you got to hang out with comedians.”
His reverence for the craft (standup, not the 90s movie I will always watch if it’s on tv) is also apparent:
“The Holy City Zoo was my third Night Café. I went in wanting to be a comedian. I left wanting to be an artist. I know that’s pretentious and grandiose and half of the comedians reading this right now are thinking Fuck you, poser but it is the absolute, embarrassing truth.”
It may be my own current preoccupations, but I read an undergirding theme of love of craft throughout the book. He ties his early acting experiences and desire to direct to several things, including being an extra:
“Shooting a movie was like blasting a tunnel through a mountain. Or brushing every grain of sand off of a fossil. You attacked it relentlessly. The form was hidden in unyielding, indifferent rock…It’s the doing it, over and over again, exactly like stand-up comedy.”
This review doesn’t contain much about the silver screen portion of the book – that is because I am not a film buff and therefore those pieces didn’t connect with me as much. If you are a film buff, you’ll enjoy the dozens of pages covering Oswalt’s myriad film viewings, which he meticulously journaled in the 90s and includes here. All that being said, I did make a list of movies to check out during my next long weekend.
This book is a deceptively short read; a significant portion of the pages are a movie list appendix. I knocked this one in a few days. If you’re a fan of Patton or the art process, there is something here for you.