Music Video of the Day: Cloudbusting by Kate Bush (1985, dir. Julian Doyle)


Happy Father’s Day!

I had this video picked out as far back as last year to do for today. What I didn’t know is that Wikipedia already has a nice article about it that pretty much covers anything I would say. Here are the two relevant passages from the article:

The song is about the very close relationship between psychologist and philosopher Wilhelm Reich and his young son, Peter, told from the point of view of the mature Peter. It describes the boy’s memories of his life with Reich on their family farm, called Orgonon where the two spent time “cloudbusting”, a rain-making process which involved pointing at the sky a machine designed and built by Reich, called a cloudbuster. The lyric further describes Wilhelm Reich’s abrupt arrest and imprisonment, the pain of loss the young Peter felt, and his helplessness at being unable to protect his father. The song was inspired by Peter Reich’s 1973 memoir, A Book of Dreams, which Bush read and found deeply moving.

The music video, directed by Julian Doyle, was conceived by Terry Gilliam and Kate Bush as a short film. The video features Canadian actor Donald Sutherland playing the role of Wilhelm Reich, and Bush in the role of his young son, Peter. The video shows the two on the top of a hill trying to make the cloudbuster work. Reich leaves Peter on the machine and returns to his lab. In flashback, he remembers several times he and Peter enjoyed together as Reich worked on various scientific projects, until he is interrupted by government officials who arrest him and ransack the lab. Peter senses his father’s danger and tries to reach him, but is forced to watch helplessly as his father is driven away. Peter finally runs back to the cloudbuster and activates it successfully, to the delight of his father who sees it starting to rain.

Filming took place at The Vale of White Horse in Oxfordshire, England. The hill on which the machine is positioned is Dragon Hill, immediately below the Uffington White Horse, a prehistoric hill carving which can be seen briefly in a couple of the shots. Bush found out in which hotel Sutherland was staying from actress Julie Christie’s hairdresser and went to his room to personally ask him to participate in the project. In the UK, the music video was shown at some cinemas as an accompaniment to the main feature. Due to difficulties on obtaining a work visa for Sutherland at short notice, the actor offered to work on the video for free. Although the events depicted in the story took place in Maine, the newspaper clipping in the music video reads “The Oregon Times,” likely a reference to Reich’s home and laboratory “Orgonon”.

The Cloudbusting machine in the video was designed and constructed by people who worked on the Alien creature and bears only a superficial resemblance to the real cloudbusters, which were smaller and with multiple narrow, straight tubes and pipes, and were operated while standing on the ground. In a reference to the source material of the song, Bush pulls a copy of Peter Reich’s “A Book of Dreams” out of Sutherland’s coat.

The full length video features a longer version of the song which is different from the Organon Mix released on 12 Inch.

If you go to the article and follow the cited sources, then it’s like taking a trip back to the 1990’s Internet. The most interesting thing I noticed in one of those sources is from an interview on SuicideGirls with Donald Sutherland:

DRE: How was it being in the video for Kate Bushs video for Cloudbursting?

DS: Shes such a stoner. She was great. She came out of this camper at eight in the morning smoking a joint and I said What are you doing? and she said, I havent been straight for eight years. I got into the video because Kate found out from Julie Christies hairdresser that I was staying at The Savoy. She came and knocked on my door. She was so small that when I opened the door I didnt see anybody. I looked down and there she was. She told me she wanted me to play Wilhelm Reich. I wanted to be able to create a character that could hold a child by his feet and hit him against the side of a building and turn his head into a squashed pumpkin, which is what we did. So it so profoundly impressed me that she wanted to do that. I adored her. I thought she was great.

There are two things I can add since they aren’t mentioned in the article.

The government agents going down the steps remind the audience of the Odessa Steps scene from Battleship Potemkin (1925).

Battleship Potemkin (1925, dir. Sergei M. Eisenstein)

Battleship Potemkin (1925, dir. Sergei M. Eisenstein)

The other thing is that Wilhelm Reich did a lot of work in the area of sex, which included a 1936 book called The Sexual Revolution–the original title is Die Sexualität im Kulturkampf (“sexuality in the culture war”). Here is a comparison between an actual cloudbuster and the one in the video as it is shown at the emotional climax.

Reich also did work specifically on the orgasm, such as his book Die Funktion des Orgasmus (“The Function of the Orgasm”). The way the cloudbuster was supposed to work involved what Reich called “orgone energy”, that is from the word “orgasm.”

Here are a couple of interviews with Kate Bush from back when the video was released:

Assuming they are still up, note that J.J. Jackson slips up in the interview. That’s early MTV for you.

A fun fact about J.J. Jackson is that he was hired by mistake. Here’s the story from the book I Want My MTV:

John Sykes: The J.J. Jackson we hired wasn’t the J.J. we meant to hire.

Robert Morton: That’s true. Pittman’s one direction to us was “Find a black VJ.” He told us about a guy named J.J. Johnson, and said, “He’s really good. Track him down.” So I looked all over for J.J. Johnson. Subsequently, I found out who he was; a very good-looking black guy who had a great voice. But I couldn’t find him. I called every radio station in the country. Finally I called KMEL in San Francisco and said, “Do you have a guy named J.J. Johnson working for you?” They said, “No, but we have J.J. Jackson.” I said, “Well, let me talk to him.” We auditioned him and I said to Pittman, “Here’s your J.J.”

The video was directed by Julian Doyle who has worked on several Monty Python related films such as Life of Brian (1979), Time Bandits (1975), and Brazil (1985). He’s done other work as well. As for music videos, I can find six credits. He also played the police sergeant who puts his hand over the camera at the end of Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975).

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975, dir. Terry Gilliam & Terry Jones)

Enjoy!

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4 responses to “Music Video of the Day: Cloudbusting by Kate Bush (1985, dir. Julian Doyle)

  1. I almost 52 and have lived in Minnesota, Twin City area since 1979 (from the Gulf in Texas)
    And oddly enough I had never even heard of Kate Bush until a couple weeks ago.
    I was browsing youtube and listening to some of my old faves from the 80s.
    Pat Benatar was a fave from those days….. and Wuthering Heights really captured me at about 15 yrs old.
    So while watching and listening… I saw Kate Bush mentioned as the original of that song and all the comments about how she was so much better.
    I watched her original version. And although I did not agree at all, I did realize that we tend to like what we grew up with more.
    So I wondered if it was my American bias? But quickly dismissed that since most of my fave bands are UK (Stones, Zeppelin, Floyd, Beatles, ….even Def Leppard was my fave in the 80s… and the list goes on too long to continue)

    Have to admit…. I laughed out loud the first 30 seconds watching Kate Bush do Wuthering Heights. It really looked and sounded like a Monty Python bit to me. The high pitch squeaking was more than I could keep a straight face to.

    I was about to write off Kate Bush as the UK’s version of Tiny Tim…. but curiosity got the best of me. So I did some research (if watching several videos on youtube counts as research)

    I watched a documentary about her… and several other music videos. I came away pretty impressed. She was an odd duck in ways no doubt… but so far ahead of her time in so many ways. And if David Gilmour knew she was special from the first time he heard her… that is good enough for me…. even without praise from the likes of Peter Gabriel, Elton John, and others.

    So while I still like Benatar’s cover of Wuthering Heights better, I can’t get the beat and vocals of “Running Up That Hill” out of my head just yet.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I found her via the Grand Theft Auto: Vice City soundtrack. It has the song Wow on it. I don’t know how many years it was till I looked up some of her other stuff. I was more amazed by her voice than anything else. I didn’t really start to dig in till the past year.

      You’re not the only one who had that reaction to the video for Wuthering Heights. I knew I liked the song and that she was talented, but I found it funny too. I still do to a certain degree. The same goes for Wow. Then you hit something like Army Dreamers. She can be goofy in Them Heavy People, and then very serious in Moments Of Pleasure.

      I’m always amazed each time I go back to spotlight one of her videos.

      Like

    • I prefer Kate Bush’s vocals over Benatar’s on Wuthering Heights. It sound like no other artist out there and I love that she does something unlike what other women singers were doing at that time.(plus the high vocals adds a nice effect to that song) There is no way Kate Bush could cover Love is a Battlefield by Benatar. That song is brilliant and would not work with Bush’s vocals

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I had no idea that Terry Gilliam and Kate Bush first coneviced this video or that it was directed by Julian Doyle who worked on many Monty Python and early Gilliam films. Good interview and I enjoyed those clips from the early days of MTV

    Liked by 1 person

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