10
Nov 04

Biographers of film directors

Do You SeePost a comment • 279 views

Biographers of film directors tend not to follow the example of their literary cousins in that intense examination of inner life is usual eschewed in favour of discussion of the director’s work itself. This makes perfect sense inasmuch as film is clearly a collective effort at every step, whereas writing — at the moment of writing — is a solitary activity. Martin Amis (wrongly) says that writers are just a bunch of guys in rooms; and the upshot is that the film biography tends to work better as a ‘portrait of the age’ than of the individual creating mind. In other words, they should have much broader appeal: personally I can’t be bothered with the childhood and old age sections of any biography, and prefer ‘group biographies’ to books devoted to individuals. But other people don’t seem to.

Which is a shame, because Kevin Jackson’s biography of Humphrey Jennings is likely to be overshadowed by whatever Bloomsbury blockbuster is tipped for Xmas fame this season as a result. Jennings isn’t simply a film director, so Jackson manages to weave in a some lovely sketches of, among other things, the foundation of Cambridge English in the ’20s, the Grierson documentary movement, British Surrealism, and Mass-Observation. IF you buy two film books this month, make Jackson’s the other one.

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