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Buzz: The Life and Art of Busby Berkeley (Screen Classics) Hardcover – December 1, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

"In this thoroughly researched book...Spivak shows a keen understanding of Berkeley's talents but does not ignore his flaws...recommended for knowledgeable movie buffs."
--Stephen Rees, Library Journal

From Booklist

Spivak’s well-written biography of the Hollywood choreographer and director, famous for the complicated, kaleidoscopic dances he choreographed for such films as 42nd Street and Gold Diggers of 1933, has scholarly depth yet is gracefully accessible. Spivak’s writing is especially strong when he discusses Berkeley’s trademark style—playful, visually arresting dances, packed with large numbers of chorus girls dancing in lockstep—and his myriad artistic influences, which include his mother, who was in the theater and silent movies; and a stint in the military, where he drilled soldiers to march in formation. In his prime, Berkeley worked extremely long hours like a man possessed, driving himself and his dancers to the brink of collapse and, in Berkeley’s case, beyond, into an alcoholism that eventually all but destroyed his career. Cineastes will enjoy Spivak’s close attention to Berkeley’s obsessively detailed planning and execution processes, and Spivak’s no-less-detailed descriptions of the final films. And for those who like movie gossip, there’s Berkeley’s wild, dysfunctional private life (which included parties, love affairs, and multiple marriages, all fueled by too much alcohol). --Jack Helbig

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Product Details

  • Series: Screen Classics
  • Hardcover: 408 pages
  • Publisher: University Press of Kentucky; 1st edition (December 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0813126436
  • ISBN-13: 978-0813126432
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.9 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #922,017 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I am a father and writer living in a northern Chicago suburb. My interest in cinema began in childhood with parents who loved seeing films in theaters.

I can be contacted at jeffreyspivak@yahoo.com.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By G. Wright on January 20, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This is a newly published book on the life and art of Busby Berkeley. Berkeley was a pioneer in the early days of American cinema and although as a director he lacked the all round character of a man like Orson Welles he easily made up for this with his ability to entertain people. The book starts out by examining Berkeley's family ancestry and takes you through his early days as a struggling stage director in New York followed by his first film roles, his car accident and subsequent trial and finishes with his demise in 1976. Some of the information contained in this book was previously examined in a TV documentary shown in 1998 called "Busby Berkeley going through the roof", but where this book expands is by gaining access to his unpublished autobiography which fills in lots of spaces and ads a lot more detail, invaluable information you would never have known had the book not been published.

This isn't a glossy film book loaded with images it's a flat out biography and if you're a fan of his work then you should find it interesting. In the early days of cinema when most of his contemporaries where busy ripping of early German and Russian filmmaking techniques Berkeley pioneered whole new styles and never got the credit he deserved.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Larry Billman on February 12, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Prior to the publication of Mr. Spivak's book, Busby Berkeley's genius was primarily saluted in books with glorious visuals ("The Busby Berkeley Book" by Tony Thomas and Jim Terry) or provocative analysis ("Showstoppers: Busby Berkeley and the Tradition of Spectacle" by Martin Rubin.) Author Spivak dives into the "why" and "how" of Berkeley's visions with a detailed examination of their creation and impact. Along the way, he tries his very best to find the man in the middle. The details he has researched and shared are exemplary and, without moral judgement, presents them for the reader to process. Some of the theories which have been examined by previous writers, film historians and "talking heads" in the excellent 1997 TCM Documentary "Busby Berkeley - Going Through the Roof" and the many "extras" on the two Warners Home Video "Busby Berkeley" DVD collections get a new twist, such as: When did a Kaleidoscope influence his vision? Who came first - Leni Riefenstahl and her Nazi Germany visions or Busby Berkeley and his patriotic American military drills? Were his sexually provocative formations meant to "push the bounds" of censorship? Unlike Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, Buzz was not interested or knowledgable in dance. His angles and editing were the prototype and inspiration of how movement would be filmed in music videos and today's dance films. The film itself "dances." Mr. Spivak lets us simply admire - and be dumbfounded by - Busby Berkeley's one-of-a-kind vision which still astounds us today.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By G.I Gurdjieff TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 7, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Dedicated to the life and art of Busby Berkeley (aka Buzz) this book is a rare hybrid which almost approaches the scholarly in respect to the visionary film making/choreography of Buzz while never being boring. It also delves into Berkeley's private life which was plagued with personal demons and featured many marriages, love affairs, public breakdowns, and headline making scandal.
The darling of the 1930's era Hollywood musical, Buzz revolutionized the genre during his tenure at Warner Brothers Studio with advanced camera angles and precision choreography that even today defies simplified explanations. He continued his career into the 1940's and beyond at MGM in (at times) an increasingly less significant role as his problems made him less employable. Author Jeffrey Spivak demonstrates his understanding of Berkeley's methodology and takes his reader on a tour of some of the most memorably visual scenes in films of the era.
While clearly enamored with Buzz' talent and ingenuity, Spivak also demonstrates his ability to view his subject in critical terms regarding his failures and shortcomings and makes no attempts to whitewash this story. This bio/film study results in some very interesting reading that is not short on personal information and thorough analysis and presents a detailed picture of a tortured genius who was often out of control and invariably destructive to the point of being his own worst enemy.
Aside from being immediately engaging and a pleasure to read, this book was really a long overdue look at the life and career of Berkeley. On a personal level, it expanded my rudimentary knowledge of Berkeley and explained the basis for various stories I had read about him. It also enhanced my admiration and appreciation of his work which might be overlooked in a time of massive special effects.
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Format: Hardcover
Is there anyone who hasn’t been awed by the spectacle of musical dance number staged and direct by Busby Berkeley? Many, like myself, revere the man. As a child I planned on becoming a film director and Berkeley was one of my idols. I envied him his giant sound stages and pools, his legions of chorines, the precision of his sequences with their overhead and boom shots, the kaleidoscopic patterns of humans, parade of faces and hand fans. The man was a genius.

Unfortunately for him, a genius with a lot of issues. Author Jeffrey Spivak focuses on the man, not his brilliant dance staging. Initially I was disappointed: I had hoped for basically picture book with detailed explanations of how Buzz conceived and staged each shot. (In reality, because Berkeley did s many camera set-ups, such a compendium would clearly take up a shelf or two in the library.)

Instead, Spivak tells the story of Berkeley’s life. It wasn’t the best of lives and it surely wasn’t the best, but I think Berkeley should have it better. But that’s life, isn’t it?

Spivak has clearly done his homework. We follow Berkeley from birth through death. Born to show business parents, Buzz grew up in a performance environment. In the First world War American Army, he gravitated to teaching troops how to march on the parade ground in increasingly intricate patterns. No one showed him how to do this: he invented his own style. Hiss reputation as a stage dance director grew and he was invited to Hollywood where became – for a time – a true celebrity for incredible dance numbers.

But there were lots of problems along the way. Alcoholism, which led to being put on trial for second-degree murder. Multiple marriages until he found the “right woman”. An up-and-down career.
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