I spent half the weekend sock-sliding across a hardwood floor listening to '80s pop and thinking hard on unfulfilled obligations. The rest of it I spent reading comedian Patton Oswalt's sort-of memoir, "Silver Screen Fiend," in which he dives into the weird four years he spent at the tail-end of the '90s obsessively watching movies, mostly in a small theater called the New Beverly in Los Angeles.

Oswalt embarked on this particular binge in a misguided attempt to become a great director by absorbing great films, missing the stepping stone of actually directing something along the way. His language is calculatingly obsessive, littered with the types of tidbits and factoids from cinema history that are shared more to push people away than pull anyone into a conversation.

Nixon
Nixon

Sounds a bit insufferable, but Oswalt's had 15 years since the great marathon ended to look back and recount how big of a shit he was being. To his girlfriend at the time, to his friends, to his fellow comedians, to himself. The obsession he's so proud of when he pockets that first ticket stub in 1995 and starts to tear through his checklist of "movies that will make me great" is balanced with reflections on the expense suffered by the other facets of life.

Granted, it's not exactly a smack addiction he's writing about here. Oswalt doesn't black out for three days and wake up wandering Skid Row naked, draped in celluloid with his balls caught in a film reel. But it's a kind of slump that's easy for people (especially us nerdy folk) to fall into — receding behind (or in front of) a screen, diving headlong into escapism and not surfacing until anyone who might have been waiting at the water's edge has long since left.


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I've fallen into similar cycles (and probably will again), planning days and weekends around time spent alone, but entertained, squeaking by with just the bare minimum social contact. It's an easy hole to dig, but surprisingly hard to recognize once you're at the bottom. I never quite ascended to the same masochistic kick that Oswalt did, but I can relate to the backwards sense of duty he gets from checking imagined accomplishments off an arbitrary list.

After the harsh realization that filmmaking talent does not come through osmosis, he eventually does come down off his kick, writing that "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."

It's a revelation easy to read, but it might take years to accept.

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