- Zach Klein/Wikimedia Commons
- The comedian in his younger years (2005, to be precise)
Patton Oswalt’s second memoir, his follow-up to 2011’s Zombie Spaceship Wasteland, is his recounting of the period between 1995 and ’99, when he was an up-and-coming comic in Los Angeles who went to the movies almost every night. Enabled by living in close proximity to the legendary New Beverly Cinema, he set out to see as many movies as possible that he found listed in The Film Noir Encyclopedia, The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film, and Danny Peary’s three volumes of Cult Movies. What results in Silver Screen Fiend: Learning About Life From an Addiction to Film is part film criticism and part show-biz autobiography, as Oswalt fits in Billy Wilder double features and Hammer horror marathons around club gigs and a stint writing for Mad TV.
Oswalt saw himself as a struggling artist unable to reconcile his dream of directing films with scraping by penning half-assed sketches and doing stand-up for casino crowds. The evenings he spent in dark theaters with Hitchcock and Welles here serve as the backdrop for his first serious career moves—headlining at Largo with the likes of Sarah Silverman and Marc Maron, his first one-line movie role in the 1996 Kelsey Grammer comedy Down Periscope, and a week of stand-up in Amsterdam with Louis C.K. Stories of bickering with Paul F. Tompkins and doing improv with David Cross might be Fiend‘s most engaging material, but Oswalt continues to show himself to be an incisive cultural critic. And an unabashed geek: the several hundred movies he watched during the years covered in the book—starting with Sunset Boulevard and ending with crushing disappointment after Stars Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace—are exhaustively cataloged in an appendix.