03/13/2012 03:35 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Just in Case It Matters: Biographer Jeffrey Spivak on the Magic of Busby Berkeley

In the 1930s and '40s, Busby Berkeley (1895-1976) staged a series of movie dance numbers that could rival the paintings of Salvador Dali in their outlandishness. His movies were loaded with jaw-dropping optical illusions and wound up influencing everyone from the Coen Brothers to Mel Brooks.

Despite the fact that he helmed or contributed to classics like 42nd Street (1933), The Gold Diggers of 1933 (which gave us the song "We're in the Money"), Strike Up the Band (1940) and The Gang's All Here (1943), there haven't been a lot of books dealing with his unique blend of escapism and wonder.

Jeffrey Spivak's new biography "Buzz: The Life and Art of Busby Berkeley" explains how Berkeley came to make such uniquely cinematic visions. It also deals with the director's troubled personal life, with his failed marriages and his 1935 trial for a car accident that killed three people and injured four others.

In the following telephone interview, Spivak explains why Berkeley's life and work need to be reexamined. For one thing, he had a much broader range than he was given credit for. For example, he's responsible for the 1939 thriller They Made Me a Criminal. He also found clever ways of getting racy ideas past the censors, even after the production code of 1933 was more widely enforced.

With that in mind, it's time to get your Netflix queue ready for some wonderful films that occasionally have something to say while they're dazzling our eyes.