“Kate Bush: Under Review”: This 2006 documentary looks at one of music’s most enigmatic & reclusive performers

By on August 5, 2016

The British-made Kate Bush: Under Review documentary — part of the Under Review documentary series we’re featuring on Night Flight Plus — is fascinating look at one of music’s most enigmatic and somewhat reclusive performers.

This 90-minute documentary, which is subtitled “An Independent Critical Analysis,” was originally released in 2006 and produced by the UK’s Prism Films on their Sexy Intellectual label, distributed by MVD.

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Kate Bush: Under Review includes obscure footage, rare interviews and photographs of, and with, Kate Bush from all periods of her astonishing career, and features a look at rarely-seen music videos, archival clips from TV programs, vintage interviews with Kate (circa 1980-1985, one from 1989) and more recent interviews with some of her colleagues, including BBC Radio 1 deejay Paul Gambaccini, musician and producer Morris Pert, writer and journalist Lucy O’Brien, MOJO and Q music journalist Phil Sutcliffe and Uncut Magazine‘s Contributing editor Nigel Williamson.

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“Kate Bush is one of the most unique artists in British musical history,” says the narrator at the beginning of the documentary. “Over the course of eight albums in twenty-eight years, she has generated a cultural legacy that has truly revolutionized popular music.”

Kate Bush

Catherine “Kate” Bush — born on July 30, 1958, in Bexleyheath, Kent, now part of Greater London, England — began teaching herself the piano at the age of eleven, in addition to studying the violin and playing the organ in her parents’ barn. She soon began writing her own songs, developing her rich contralto voice (which is either a three or four octave range — we’ve read its both).

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By the time she was sixteen she’d written nearly 200 songs, and with help from her musical family she produced a demo tape with over fifty songs, which then made its way — through a family friend, Ricky Hopper — to one of his friends, Pink Floyd guitarist and producer David Gilmour, who was also friendly with the entire Bush family.

Impressed with what he heard, Gilmour spent his own money recording three of Kate’s songs, and got his friend Andrew Powell to produce the session which included a huge studio orchestra. That tape made its way into record executive Terry Slater’s hands, who promptly signed her to a recording contract with EMI Records.

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At just sixteen years old, it was determined by EMI that Bush wasn’t quite ready yet for the release of her debut, and so the next few years were spent carefully developing and honing her considerable talents, focusing on dance, mime and voice training (she used part of her advance to enroll in Lindsey Kemp’s interpretive dance classes). She also performed at various small venues in and near London under the name KT Bush Band.

By 1978, she was nineteen years old and finally ready, and EMI picked thirteen of her songs among the many she’d written for her debut, The Kick Inside.

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That album and her sophomore effort, Lionheart (also 1978) are discussed at length here, in interviews with many of her colleagues, as well her 1980 album Never for Ever, which was the first-ever album by a British female solo artist to go to #1 on the UK album chart (where it remained for four weeks) as well as topping the Australian charts on its way to making her an international star.

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Early on, she realized she didn’t like the loss of privacy and public exposure which made her uncomfortable, and due to this she began to shy away from doing promotional work and tried to focus on the music itself, becoming a perfectionist in the studio painstakingly focused on her life’s work. She would begin a pattern early in her career of woodshedding and working on the songs, then burst forth with new material, which always caused quite a stir among the music world, before disappearing again for long periods of time.

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As you might imagine, Bush — who not only excelled as a songwriter and singer, but as a celebrated creative 80s-era music video artist, dancer, choreographer and film director — rarely performed live, however; her only tour was in 1979, at venues in the UK and Europe, and featured a huge dance troupe, elaborate stage lighting and effects, and seventeen costume changes.

Bush was also the first ever singer to use a wireless harness microphone, which allowed her to move about freely onstage so that she could incorporate extensive dance routines into her live performances onstage.

Kate Bush Live At Hammersmith Odeon

The tour — we see some of the footage here — was filmed for the BBC and later released on VHS as Kate Bush: Live at Hammersmith Odeon (it hasn’t been issued in the U.S. yet on DVD/BluRay as far as we know, not officially).

We learn the back stories behind some of her most meaningful songs and their unique points-of-view, like post-nuclear war life, told from the point of view of a fetus dying in its mother’s womb (“Breathing”), a woman struggling to get her husband to notice her (“Babooshka”), and one of her most famous songs, “Wuthering Heights,” is based on the novel by Emily Bronte.

The doc proceeds along with more talk from the talking heads, talking about The Dreaming (1982), which Bush produced herself, followed by one of her most inspired records, Hounds of Love (1985), which we learn was inspired in part by Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poetry, before wrapping up with the stories behind her 1989 album The Sensual World, which was partly shaped by traditional music from Bulgaria, Ireland and other countries.

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We learn that she’d been inspired to create an album with songs based on James Joyce’s landmark novel Ulysses, but she wasn’t able to release the album because Joyce’s estate nixed the idea. Undaunted, she moved on to her next project, 1990’s The Red Shoes, which was inspired, in part, by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s 1948 motion picture, which of course is also notable for its many guest appearances by other notable artists of the late 80s and early 90s (Prince, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and others).

There’s also a bit about her long-form promotional film, The Line, The Cross and The Curve, which starred Bush and young actress Miranda Richardson. The 45-minute featurette has never been officially released digitally and has since been disowned by Bush (years later she stated it was “a load of bollocks”), and quite possibly contributed to her disappearance from the public eye for quite a long time. The documentary doesn’t attempt to cover her entire career and stops short of her comeback album.

If you’re already a Kate Bush fan — or you’re about to become one after watching this documentary — you’ll no doubt enjoy the songs performed herein, which include: “Wuthering Heights,” “The Man with the Child in His Eyes,” “Symphony in Blue,” “Wow,” “James and the Cold Gun,” “Kite,” “Breathing,” “Babooshka,” “Army Dreamers,” “Sat in Your Lap,” “The Dreaming,” “Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God),” “Cloudbusting” (Bush’s video co-stars actor Donald Sutherland), “This Woman’s Work,” “The Sensual World,” “Rubberband Girl,” and “King of the Mountain.”

Watch Kate Bush: Under Review now at Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.