Book Review: Silver Screen Fiend, by Patton Oswalt
“…This is me…I think it’s apparent that I need to rethink my life a little bit.”
Those were the first major narrative words that hit my eardrums, as I watched the first teaser trailer for PIXAR’s film Ratatouille, in 2006. After that teaser, I began to wonder just who uttered those words for the studio’s latest animated lead. The voice sounded familiar, but I couldn’t place it. It was shortly after that I learned the name, Patton Oswalt.
A few years later, I got to see some of Patton’s genius onstage when I was able to get into a sold-out show (after the cashier took pity on me) at the now-closed Lake Shore Theater near my dwelling. It was the first actual stand-up I had heard/seen Patton do, and I think I came close to choking when he did his sketch on the song Christmas Shoes (which has become an audio-listening Holiday tradition some 5 years and running now!).
To me, Patton almost seems like a pop-culture ambassador. I’ve seen him preside over hosting duties at many a Comic-Con panel. He can also deliver ‘it’s funny because its true’ comedy (the stuff I like), and manages to whirl in enough popular culture without feeling like it’s clogging my arteries. Pretty much anytime tickets go on sale for one of his shows in town, I’m there.
I threw that line from Ratatouille in at the top, because it also seems to tie into Patton’s new book, Siver Screen Fiend. The bulk of the 192 page book chronicles a 4-year period (1995-1999), in which Patton found himself becoming a “sprocket fiend.” What soon started as a way to catch up on some important pieces of celluloid, soon ‘devolved’ into a manic-obsession, that caused him to get a little too deep into film-watching.
Fiend also seeks to illustrate a man looking back on his world many years later. Introspection is given to the folly of being in your 20’s, ready to take the world by the horns, and maybe shake things up in your own way…before the world doesn’t fully cooperate, and you attempt to find a happy medium. In between his manic retreats into the flickering darkness, Patton found time to write for MadTV, appear in Down Periscope, as well as found his groove on how to best hone his particular brand of comedy.
The book’s chapters also play out like one of Patton’s stand-up routines on CD. Some are a few pages, while others go on for quite a bit. But like his comedy albums, there’s several stories that just pop, and I’ve found myself reading several of the chapters over and over again.
One chapter that is rather intriguing (though a little messed up), is when an East Coast comedian Patton knew back in the day, shows up in Los Angeles. This fellow meets Patton with one goal in mind: Have Patton help him get onstage at The Largo Comedy Club, which will immediately net him a TV show. The chapter is like watching a car wreck, but you just can’t look away.
It sounds ridiculous to say ‘he writes the way he talks,’ but in reading Fiend, it’s so easy to hear Patton’s voice. In the chapter regarding his first night at The Holy City Zoo in San Francisco, Patton gives the view of a cocky Eastern comedy transplant ready to blow the doors off California’s comedy scene…only for him to learn a valuable life-lesson, narrated in a breathless page-and-a-half memory-gasm of his self-confidence crashing to the floor (I may have to pick up the audiobook just to hear how Patton narrates this part).
In reading Silver Screen Fiend, one can’t help but feel there’s truth to be gleaned from Oswalt’s latest book. Much like the ‘it’s funny because it’s true’ nature of his stand-up, there’s introspection amid the memories, that we could very well apply to our own daily lives.
A few weeks ago, I attended a book-signing luncheon at Chicago’s The Standard Club. Following the lunch, the few dozen of us who were there, watched as Patton and Chicago Tribune critic Michael Philips, talked over Patton’s new book, as well as several of the different films he’d been in.
Even in these smaller moments, Patton can still be a great storyteller. One tale he told at the lunch, was in regards to a 2007 film he starred in, called Big Fan. A lot of people were impressed with Patton’s role as a sports-obsessed parking attendant, but the distributor of the film didn’t seem at all interested in doing anything more than just releasing the film, and putting it out on the home video market…even going so far as putting a football field on the DVD cover, even though the characters never went to a game. As well, when it seemed people wanted to nominate the film for awards, the distributor saw no joy in it.
Also of interest was a side-note regarding how he came to be involved in Ratatouille. Director Brad Bird actually had heard some of Oswalt’s stand-up routines, and that was what got him considered for the role. As well, to test how the voice synched up with a character, the studio’s animators did an animation of Remy the rat, dubbed to Patton’s sketch about Black Angus Steakhouse (oh, how I wish I could see that test footage!). What also stood out in his talks of working with the studio, was that Patton admitted that while he did the voice, much of the credit for Remy’s performance was to the people at PIXAR, in making the character come to life.
This book is considered a memoir of Patton’s life, along with his previous book, Zombie Spaceship Wasteland. One has to wonder if one day, after a few more of these books, we’ll be able to stitch them together like Frankenstein’s monster, and have the whole story.
Btw Patton, in regards to your autograph (see above), I did. Thank you very much.