It’s an unusual altar at which to worship — the darkened, run-down movie house. But that’s where comedian Patton Oswalt takes communion and offers up reverence, with the New Beverly serving as the Vatican of Los Angeles’ film theaters. Between 1995 and 1999, Oswalt attends “church” with the fervor of a fanatic, and in his latest book, Silver Screen Fiend, he reflects upon his time in the “glow pulsing off of the movie screen” with piercing wit and sharp insight.
By keeping the narrative conservational in tone and in the present tense, Silver Screen feels like a storytelling session. Oswalt deftly correlates his cinematic viewing with the two-steps-forward, one-step-back rise of his career, both as a comedian and actor. The fledgling comic begins as a teenager working up an act in Washington, D.C., venues before taking his shtick to the wild west of San Francisco’s scene. It’s in the City of Angels, however, that Oswalt really finds his niche at the Largo within the “alternative comedy” community. Despite his successes — he has a day job as a writer for MADtv and gets small parts in film (e.g., Stingray Radioman in Down Periscope) — Oswalt becomes increasingly obsessed with watching films until he finally becomes a self-proclaimed addict whose two-dimensional life interferes with his three-dimensional one.
Although Silver Screen Fiend is a slim tome page-count-wise, it is hefty with humor and wisdom and observational gems. With popcorn and red vines in tow, Oswalt gives readers a glimpse inside the darkened theaters of his formative years where, it turns out, he learned invaluable life lessons.
UCSB’s Arts & Lectures presents an evening with Patton Oswalt on Wednesday, October 7, 8 p.m., at the Granada Theatre (1214 State St.). For tickets and information, call 893-3535 or see artsandlectures.sa.ucsb.edu.