“Silver Screen Fiend” by Patton Oswalt

I like to drink.
At my drunkest the worst I do is rewatch
Murder on the Orient Express or fall asleep.
I used to smoke a lot of pot. All it made me do
was go on long walks by myself and laugh at things.
I’ve enjoyed my share of LSD and mushrooms.
They exploded my being from the inside out—
while I sat and listened to music.

I’ve done my due diligence as far as vices,
but I’m an unbearable slouch when it comes
to interesting stories connected to them.

This will be either the most interestin or
the most boring addiction memoir you’ve ever read.
I can’t promise it ever gets “harrowing,”
but I can promise that I tried—I really tried—
to make it funny.

Here we go.

And so begins “Silver Screen Fiend”, Patton Oswalt’s memoir about his mid-twenties and early thirties. He focuses especially on the four years he spent living in Los Angeles and watching A LOT of movies (1995-1999). During this time, he was employed as a writer for MadTV and practiced his stand-up comedy, all while harboring a pipedream of being a film director.

He kept track of all the movies he watched: beginning with Sunset Boulevard and Ace in the Hole and ending with Star Wars: The Phantom Menace four years later to the day. Seeing The Phantom Menace was the flowering of a slow-blossoming epiphany for him, because he had so many complaints about how crummy it was without ever trying to make a movie. In the end, he realizes he’d been taking movies way too seriously:

Movies—the truly great ones (and sometimes the truly bad)—should be a drop in the overall fuel formula for your life. A fuel that should include sex and love and food and movement and friendships and your own work. All of it, feeding the engine. But the engine of your life should be your life. And it hits me, sitting there with my friends, that for all of our bluster and detailed, exotic knowledge about film, we aren’t contributing anything to film.

Consuming art and media is so much easier than making your own. No amount of watching movies will make you a better maker of movies if you’re not actively striving to create your own. Oswalt was slow to realize this. Furthermore, it got to the point where his love of movies was interfering with his ability to fully engaging with life. So this book is, in it’s own way, inspirational and motivational. I’m glad I read it.

High School Graduation Speech, my favorite essay of Patton’s.
Buy on Amazon

Highlights

Any true creative endeavor demands constant evolution, growth, experimentation and challenge.

“They change their sky, not their soul, who run across the sea.” That was Horace in 65 BC. A truism that applies so perfectly to every one of my friends who leave L.A. for New York, and find themselves a year later with newly toned legs from waking, scraped raw nerves from the assault that is Manhattan, and a sudden yearning to “…I dunno, move upstate, or maybe to Williamsburg.”

Does anyone act more like an overserious senior citizen with time running out on their chance for immortality than someone in their twenties?

The theater and world around me were gone, and I was watching Charles Foster Kane chew and bully his way to the top of a mountain he was about to go tumblind down the other side of. And he was going to drain so much love and patience and charity out of everyone he knew in the ascent that none of them would have the energy to run around the other side of that mountain to catch him when he plummeted. You know what’s going to happen every single time you see it but it’s such a sweet ride—like bodysurfing a wave that you know is going to send you belly-first into abrasive sand; still, you can never resist the swell when you feel it rise.

I’d just started working in movies. One vaporous bit part. I’d tried to make it count. But I forgot something.

It’s the doing it, over and over again, exactly like stand-up comedy. You did it until your mouth didn’t dry up in front of a camera and you forgot the lens was there and you kept on doing it. The career and the bigger roles (and maybe the directing?) would happen without your thinking about it.

The Bicycle Thief is the kind of movie that makes you realize that each person you glace at, interact with or ignore is an epic film or thrilling novel you’ll never get to experience. Makes you bless the grandeur of life and curse it at the same time for being too painfully narrow and brief.

Less movies, more living. That’s what I’m saying to myself as I walk out onto the street. Gonna make that change, soon…

And here I am. I’ve traded a late-morning coffee shop for a late-night, postscreening bar, angry at George Lucas for producing something that doesn’t live up to my exacting, demanding, ultimately nonparticipating standards, and 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.

I’ve said this elsewhere, but I’m a stone-cold atheist who’s genuinely grateful that religion exists. All religions. I look at them as a testament to the human race’s imagination, to our ability to invent stories that explain away—or at least make manageable—the nameless terrors, horrific randomness and utter, galactic meaninglessness of the universe. Is there anything more defiant and beautiful than, when faced with a roaring void, to say, “I know a story that fits this quite nicely. And I’m going to use it, pitiless universe, to give meaning and poetry and hope to my days inside this maelstrom into which I’ve, in Joseph Conrad’s words, ‘blundered unbidden'”?

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