Sunday, January 25, 2015

Silver Screen Fiend

While visiting my father over New Year's week, I was watching television.  I flipped to The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.  I watched Nicole Kidman tease Jimmy Fallon about an awkward encounter they had years before.  The next guest was Patton Oswalt.  I don't know much about Patton Oswalt.  I recall seeing him occasionally on King of Queens,  a television show I've watched infrequently.  My awareness of him starts and ends with a film called Big Fan (2009),  I read a review of it in the Wall Street Journal which praised his performance.  Years later I enjoyed the film on a television premium channel during one of those windows where they make everything free on demand.

Oswalt was on The Tonight Show to promote his new book - Silver Screen Fiend:  Learning About Life From an Addiction to Film.  During the interview, Oswalt mentioned that he saw approximately 250 films in the theaters one calendar year.  This CNN article states "Between 1995 and 1999, Oswalt consumed nearly 700 films."  This gave me quite a bit of pause.  Last year, I saw 388 films.  Oswalt saw 700 films between May 20, 1995 and May 20, 1999 - exactly four years.  For the four years ending December 31, 2014, I saw 1,627 films.  If Oswalt characterizes himself as an addict, what am I?

For some time, I have been wondering why I am so compulsive in many areas of my life.  Seeing so many film and spending so many hours seeing so many films is not normal.  My main guess is that I'm dissatisfied with my job and am coping by seeing so many films.  This blog tells a different story.  I started this blog one month before starting the job I currently have.  In addition, I can recall times over the past 8 years when I was very satisfied with my job.  If anything, my film attendance has dropped over the past two years which is the time frame when my career frustrations have become acute.  In fact, the dip in my film attendance since 2012 is very confusing.  During that period, in addition to the issues related to my job, I've witnessed my father's deterioration due to aging.  This is extremely depressing.

In a nutshell, I don't know what is driving this compulsion of mine (which is 10% less compulsive over the past two years).  I bought Oswalt's book to see if i could gleam any insights.  I'm surprised at some of the similarities between us.  Oswalt is six months younger than me.  He moved to San Francisco on May 5, 1992.  I rolled into town in June of that year.  It's strange to think Oswalt and I could have encountered each other back then.  Oswalt moved to SF to perform standup comedy which was quite popular back then.  His homebase was the Holy City Zoo in the 400 block of Clement.  I never went there but I prowled Green Apple Books (500 block of Clement) for many hours back then.  Much life movie theaters today, I could lose myself within the stacks of books in Green Apple.  Oswalt lists the films he saw during this period.  By then he was living in LA (the New Beverly Cinema was to him what the Castro is to me now).  He came to San Francisco periodically and he seemed to prefer the Castro, Roxie and now defunct Red Vic and Royal Theaters.  My records don't go back that far but it is quite possible that Oswalt & I were in the same audience for screenings at the Castro or Roxie.

Given some of the topics Oswalt covers (tangentially to his film addiction), I think we could have had a few interesting conversations if we had met.  For Oswalt, his addiction was simple to trace to its roots.  He wanted to direct a film.  By watching films, he could learn the craft - like going to film school.  I have no desire to direct films.  The most I can say is that great films provide an insight into the human condition - kind of like a philosophy or sociology class.  I am frequently amazed at the imagination of some directors or their ability to draw me into their film so completely.

I guess I forgot to mention that I finished reading Silver Screen Fiend last week.  I found it compelling but I wonder how many people in the general population could relate to his memoir.  The Roxie and Booksmith is hosting "a night of comedy, books, and film at the Roxie Theater" on Tuesday, January 27 (7:30 PM).  The only tickets left are "one seat + one book" for $37.22 including service fee.  I don't think I'm going to go.  I already have the book and doubt I could actually have a conversation with Oswalt to compare our addictions but I recommend the event nonetheless.

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