Patton Oswalt sometimes serves as my spirit guide. That might be a function of my desire to put all of my useless pop culture knowledge to good use and get paid for it. Which is not to say that I think Patton's job is simply goofing on George Lucas or drawing parallels between his chronic depression and the Mad Max film series. Like all effective comedians, he presents his often insightful and unique views on the world with remarkable timing and a memorable delivery. To that end, I sometimes forget that those jokes must be written and not simply spat at the audience in an impromptu diatribe.
It's often said that comedians are some of the most depressed people on Earth and while the book covers the four year period when Patton was self-admittedly addicted to movies, he cannot promise that "it ever gets 'harrowing.'" But it's an addiction nonetheless and Patton deftly weaves moments of soul-crushing obsession into moments of tender remembrance. Citing Vincent Van Gogh's creative transformation after painting the masterpiece "The Night Cafe", Oswalt uses the painter's genius/madness (or is it madness/genius?) as a symbolic entry point into his own compulsion and subsequent transformations. Yes. Plural.
It soon becomes very clear that Patton straight knows his stuff. Such is the nature of obsession. His astute observations concerning film direction (his occupational aspiration at the time), camera work, and general movie theater nerdery are both endearing and relatable. Silver Screen Fiend commences with a detailed remembrance of the day he first committed his life to his film addiction in May of 1995. His description of the New Beverly theater in Los Angeles, the films (Billy Wilder Double Features, Sunset Blvd. and Ace In the Hole!), even the ticket taker/owner Sherman Torgan (subject of a heartrending eulogy that acts as an apt epilogue to the book) are as intoxicating as they are illuminative.
Finally, the book serves as a rough time capsule of the "alternative" comedy movement of the mid to late 1990s. Name drops include (but are not limited to) Bill Hicks, Bob Odenkirk, David Cross, Marc Maron, Sarah Silverman, Blaine Capatch, and Brian Posehn. I've always found it odd and a bit inspiring to hear or read stories from successful people in relation to other successful people. I find workplace memoirs fascinating too, as most everyone works and has an experience they can bring to to bear on the author's story. Hearing about Patton's struggles to find his voice, follow his passion, and still feed himself delight with a deft touch and wistful reflection.
All told, I love every aspect of this book: Patton's self-deprecation, his playful (and yet respectful) wielding of language, and the tender description of a formative time in his life. And these things are made all the better and near-perfect in hearing his crisp voice and off-kilter cadence deliver them on audio. Still, Patton's skills as a writer are on full display; and what a revelation it is to behold. Perhaps it is folly to hold someone I've never met (and most likely never will meet) in such high regard. But I am thankful for his story and it's invitation to visit my own Night Cafe.