Fans of comedian Patton Oswalt know that the man lives for movies. Over the years, he’s spun out classic bits about the sometimes-soul-squashing process of being a punch-up scriptwriter for major Hollywood studios; on last year’s stand-up album Werewolves And Lollipops, one of the most memorable bits came from his fascination with hidden film gems like 1977’s Death Bed: The Bed That Eats. Through Oct. 16, Oswalt will be guest-curating his own film festival, “Sitting In The Dark,” at L.A.’s famed New Beverly Cinema. He’ll screen 12 handpicked films, hold giveaways, and bring along a few surprise guests. The A.V. Club recently spoke with Oswalt about the process of selecting those movies, what film-nerd heaven is like, and when his crush on cinema began.
The A.V. Club: How did you get connected with the New Beverly?
Patton Oswalt: The New Beverly has been doing these curated film festivals by people that have been regular patrons and people known to be film lovers—Tarantino did one, and Diablo Cody. When I moved to L.A. in the summer of ’95, every night that I wasn’t doing stand-up, I was at the New Beverly watching double features, soaking up movies. I got to know [former New Beverly Cinema owner] Sherman Torgan, and when he died [in 2007] I was just really shattered. I wrote this huge blog about him called “I Will Program A Month In Heaven For You, Sherman Torgan”—a month of movies that had always been dreamed about by different directors, like, “Oh, I’m going to do this project someday,” and they never did. Because my idea of the afterlife is that you get to see all those movies completed, dream movies that movie nerds would love to see: Orson Welles’ Batman movie, Billy Jack Vs. Blacula, Buster Keaton in Masters Of Atlantis. My idea of movie-nerd heaven. And I totally took that from the dream library from [the comic book series] Sandman. It’s that library that’s just full of books that great writers dreamed of writing and never got around to. [Laughs.] Apparently Peckinpah was developing the Superman movie first. God, his Superman movie? And Coppola was developing Dr. Strange back in the day. He had the rights. Can you imagine? Dr. Strange.
AVC: Is it fair to say the films in your festival are the cream of the crop for you?
PO: They are, and you know, I think I speak for most film buffs when I say there’s no such thing as a favorite movie, but I hope that this kind of represents my pantheon of, “Okay, here’s the general area of stuff I really, really love.”
AVC: You’ve included a really wide array of genres in the festival: noir, action, documentary, comedy, and so on. As a fan of so many types of films, how did you hone in on the 12 you ended up picking?
PO: I just started making huge lists of everything I liked, and then asked, “Okay, what can we get?” The first one that came together was the Walter Matthau double feature [The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three and Charley Varrick]. Those are two of the best action/suspense movies of the ’70s, and the fact that Walter Matthau is the John McClane character—I mean, that’s how great movies were in the ’70s: Walter Matthau was your badass action hero. Who’s gonna save the world? Oh, Matthau. The guy who’s hungover and kind of slouching in a really cheap suit and eating a hot dog. That guy. I love it. And since I knew I’d be doing one near Halloween, I wanted to—a lot of my movie-nerd friends, like Edgar Wright and Brian Posehn, love really gory ’70s monster movies, but I still love that really atmospheric, weird type film. So what I wanted to show was Curse Of The Demon and The Seventh Victim, and we couldn’t get The Seventh Victim, but we did end up getting Faust, which is still really, really creepy. And then, of course, for the documentary, it was going to be American Movie and then Sherman’s March. You know, Sherman’s March is one of the best documentaries and one of the best comedies ever made, as is American Movie. American Movie, I mean, I saw that five times in the theater, and could not get over thinking, “Ohhh, if you wrote this!”
AVC: So without Sherman’s March, how did you end choosing Cars III for the documentary double feature?
PO: Well, there’s this young filmmaker from Portland, Oregon who does everything just right on video. His name is Bobby Hacker. Go to YouTube and check him out. [At the screening] what we’re gonna do is show the quote-unquote feature he made—but I love his spirit, which is “Well, when I put together the stuff I liked, it’s just 35 minutes long, and that’s all you need!’ That’s his way of thinking, which is “That’s a movie!” So we’re showing his 35-minute movie, and then we’re going to show a bunch of his shorts—the “Fun Town Auto” stuff, to show how we got where we are with this. I guess you’d call them prequels.
AVC: How did you hook up with Hacker? Online, there are a few promotional videos he made for your shows in the Pacific Northwest.
PO: I said to him, “I think your stuff is great. I’m doing shows up in the Pacific Northwest. Please make promo videos for me,” and he did. I said, “Let me give you free rein,” and of course it was amazing. Will [Ferrell] and Adam McKay love that guy.
AVC: There are two films by Dirty Harry director Don Siegel in your program. He’s the only filmmaker who appears twice. Why did you decide to put both of those in?
PO: The two Don Siegel movies I have are Charley Varrick and The Lineup, which I didn’t even ask for initially, because it’s not on DVD and you can’t get hold of it, and it’s so good. It’s this super-low-budget, gritty crime movie that was made in the ’50s. And back then, if you worked with a low enough budget, the studio just ignored you, and you could get away with really weird shit.
AVC: It feels unfair to ask this, since you’ve pointed out how hard picking a favorite film is, but do you have a film genre you love most?
PO: My two top favorite genres would be film noir—’40s and ’50s—and then that early ’70s new-Hollywood era, like Five Easy Pieces. Then, more obscure stuff like Two-Lane Blacktop and Cisco Pike and Fat City. I couldn’t get Fat City for this festival. [Makes sobbing sounds.]
AVC: If you had to pinpoint a time in your life that you really became a certified film buff, when would it be?
PO: I really got into film in high school, when I started reading Roger Ebert’s movie guides, because I was living in the suburbs and just really didn’t have access to good movies. In his books, at the end, he wrote, “You gotta go see Floating Weeds. You gotta go see La Dolce Vita.” That was stuff that was just so beyond my canon. But then, I think subconsciously—when I was 5 years old, at Halloween, they had one of those activity days at our local library and they showed us the original Nosferatu. I guess they figured, “Well, it’s a silent movie, so it’s okay for kids.” They just projected it against the wall and put blankets on the windows of this library, and it scared the living shit out of all of us. Watching this little square of light against a wall overtake a room and freak everyone out, that really stayed with me.
Visit newbevcinema.com to find information and showtimes for “Sitting In The Dark With Patton Oswalt.”