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Buzz: The Life and Art of Busby Berkeley

by Jeffrey Spivak

Availablecloth$45.00s 978-0-8131-2643-2
Screen Classics
408 pages  Pubdate: 11/29/2010  6.125 x 9.25  62 b&w photos

Characterized by grandiose song-and-dance numbers featuring ornate geometric patterns and mimicked in many modern films, Busby Berkeley’s unique artistry is as recognizable and striking as ever. From his years on Broadway to the director’s chair, Berkeley is notorious for his inventiveness and signature style. Through sensational films like 42nd Street (1933), Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933), Footlight Parade (1933), and Dames (1934), Berkeley sought to distract audiences from the troubles of the Great Depression. Although his bold technique is familiar to millions of moviegoers, Berkeley’s life remains a mystery.

Buzz: The Life and Art of Busby Berkeley is a telling portrait of the filmmaker who revolutionized the musical and changed the world of choreography. Berkeley pioneered many conventions still in use today, including the famous “parade of faces” technique, which lends an identity to each anonymous performer in a close-up. Carefully arranging dancers in complex and beautiful formations, Berkeley captured perspectives never seen before.

Jeffrey Spivak’s meticulous research magnifies the career and personal life of this beloved filmmaker. Employing personal letters, interviews, studio memoranda, and Berkeley’s private memoirs, Spivak unveils the colorful life of one of cinema’s greatest artists.

Jeffrey Spivak writes about film for periodicals and websites.

“Spivak has the biographer’s sine qua non: a sense of his subject’s uniqueness on this Earth.” —Page Laws, dean of the Honors College, Norfolk State University

"A gifted storyteller and historian, Jeffrey Spivak paints a finely detailed portrait of dance director Busby Berkeley and his doting actress mother Gertrude. It is a lullaby of Broadway and Holylwood as improbable as any of Berkeley's fantastical musical numbers."--Miles Kreuger, President, The Institute of the American Musical, Inc.

"Spivak’s meticulous research magnifies the career and personal life of this beloved entertainer."--Turner Classic Movies

“Spivak shows a keen understanding of Berkeley’s talents but does not ignore his flaws. His biography illuminates a fertile period in American film history.”--Library Journal

"Read this book cover to cover, the first attempt at a full-blown biography of the innovative choreographer and director whose kaleidoscopic musical numbers of the 1930s have never been equaled. Spivak has done his homework in terms of interviews and archival research--including a discovery of Berkeley's unpublished memoir."--Leonard Maltin's Movie Crazy

"The man behind cinema's most complex dance numbers was as complex as his work."--Los Angeles Magazine

Hufftington Post's "Best Film Books for 2010" -- Thomas Gladysz

"At the time, movie musicals were stale and outdated, but with a touch of the Buzz magic, they came alive. Most credit Berkeley with saving and then recreating a whole new genre of the movie musical. The book is heavy into his technique and art, but pretty light when it comes to fleshing out the picture of just who Busby Berkeley was as a man. If you are a lover of musicals, this is the book for you."--Chew & Digest Books

"This is an excellent book. The research is meticulous, the narrative crisp, and the evalution of Berkeley's life and work informative. Buzz fills a major gap in the history of both cinema and musical theater and is must reading, especially for those interested in either."--King Features Syndicate

“Berkeley was a choreographer extraordinaire. Who else could handle 150 dancers in one number? I can’t think of anyone, and Berkeley was doing this in the 1920s and 1930s.”--California Chronicle

“One could be excused for thinking that a book titled Buzz might be about Internet-based P.R. strategies for individuals or businesses, but it’s actually a biography—the only one out there—of Busby Berkeley, the choreo-philosopher and one of the cinema’s most original and distinctive creators.”--New Yorker

“[Berkeley] was destined for a life in show business. And that life, . . . was as full of dazzling highs and lurid lows as any melodrama could be.”--Barnes and Noble Review

“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.”--Booklist

“Spivak describes the entrepreneur’s extraordinary career and catalogs his over-the-top life and similarly baroque song-and-dance numbers which featured ornate geometric patterns and influenced much that came after.”--Moving Picture Archives News

“People today may remember Berkeley as the visionary behind those human geometric designs that beguiled Hollywood audiences during the 1930s and 40s, but Jeffrey Spivak’s new biography Buzz: The Life and Art of Busby Berkeley paints a deeper portrait of a true artistic innovator and an often troubled human being.”--Chicago Stage Style

“Looking for a gift for a movie lover? Consider Jeffrey Spivak’s new book, Buzz.”--New York Post

"Buzz: The Life and Art of Busby Berkeley is a pick for film and biography holdings alike, covering the career and personal life of film director and choreography Busby Berkeley, whose films changed the nature of the musical film itself and saved Warner Bros. studio. Berkeley's own unpublished memoirs, personal letters, legal documents, and more [complimentary] interviews with those who worked with him for a wide-ranging survey to any serious film or biography library."--The Midwest Book Review

"[Having] rescued [Berkeley's own memoirs] from a garbage clearance... Spivak recounts [Berkeley's] tales of relentless retakes, schedule-skimming night shoots, and crack-ups, whether emotional... or spinal."--Sight & Sound

"[A] fascinating read."--Playbill

"Busby Berkeley's name conjures up kaleidoscopic images of women's body parts: crane shots of synchronized movement, collaged into design and pattern by distance and directorial oversight. Jeffrey Spivak aims to promote Berkeley. . . to the role of directorial creativity and originality."--Times Literary Supplement

"Jeffrey Spivak offers a detailed look into the life and career of one of American cinema's most influential dance directors"--Theater Mania

"Spivak's biography perfectly captures Buzz's spirit as well as the legend, all rolled into one. Spivak covers the man from his humble beginnings, cowering under his brother's wardrobe as he first makes an "appearance" on stage, through to his Broadway successes and failures, and on to the peaks and nadirs he experienced in Hollywood. An even-handed tribute all around." -- Broadway World

"Spivak . . . did an enormous amount of research for this biography. He even viewed the least notable of Berkeley's films and tracked unfinished projects." -- Choice

"Spivak's text is undoubtedly praiseworthy for utilizing resources...to produce this substantial work."--Cambridge Journals

"[Spivak] writes the direct and concise . . . prose that makes for easy reading."--Quarterly Review of Film and Video

Not only is Buzz the source material for [an] upcoming movie, but it’s an invaluable resource on the ups and downs of Berkeley’s life. -- Journeys In Classic Film