I used to dislike biographies. In the library, I avoided them like some people avoid grapefruit juice. Then I started reading about the cinema and found that most cinema books were so heavy with incomprehensible theory that I reached for a book about Alfred Hitchcock. It wasn’t a book about feminism and Hitchcock or violence and Hitchcock. It was about Hitch, from his birth to his death and every fear of eggs in between. I read it, I enjoyed it, I sought out more biographies. Soon, I broadened my scope. I went from the biographies of film directors to the biographies of film producers, then writers, and finally, earlier this year, I read the autobiography of a Latino guy from Texas.
The cinematic biographies gave me what I didn’t find in the books “about cinema”, i.e. they described the actual process of making movies, and how the production and business of filmmaking influenced the content of films. Suddenly, the lack of lighting wasn’t a deliberate choice by the immigrant German Expressionist director but a cost-cutting measure that happened to turn out stylish. I don’t think that lessens the magic of the movies any more than knowing something about honey bees lessens the magic of watching them buzz around a garden full of flowers.
For me, the study of cinema has always been too focussed on theories, screens-as-mirrors and philosophy, and too little on the nuts, bolts and budgets.
Biographies and autobiographies were my answer.
P.S. The first biography I ever read was about the hockey player Eric Lindros. It was for an elementary school book report. The book was short. That’s why I chose it.