Moving and my first classes of the semester have pushed “Games Without Frontiers” to next week. In the meantime, here’s a quick rundown of ARTE’s new Kate Bush documentary. And as always, feel free to join my 27 other backers on Patreon.
ARTE is an excellent provider of culturally astute television. It’s well-produced documentary filmmaking with lots of programmes to choose from if you want 45 to 50 minutes of that. Admittedly other than their new and very good Kate Bush documentary, all I’ve seen is their Alan Moore film (which is fun too), so I can’t testify for the vast majority of their work, but I’d be very surprised if those two shows were anomalies in their body of work. Plus my art history major girlfriend has praised them, so I think we’re on solid ground here.
Which is to say ARTE doing a Kate Bush documentary is terribly exciting. There’s a roster of solid Kate Bush documentaries out there (I’ll vouch for the Nationwide documentary, Kate Bush In Concert, and the Kate Bush Story), but there’s a very small number of them, and over the years they’ve offered increasingly less new information. Kate Bush, portrait de l’envoûtante icone pop isn’t exactly brimming with new facts about Bush either, but it’s nonetheless a useful bit of filmmaking. This may be a good time to bring up that as the programme is in French and lacks English subtitles, so as a non-Francophone I missed quite a bit of the dialogue. Still, even though bits are overdubbed, it’s still a visually well-presented show that’s pretty clear all the way through. Even when you lose track of the language, you’ll understand what’s happening onscreen.
The most exciting part of the documentary is the astonishing amount of new interviews with Kate Bush’s collaborators and associates. David Gilmour, Brian Bath, Andrew Powell, Stewart Avon Arnold, Gered Mankowitz, Graeme Thomson, Pat Martin, Vic King, Nick Launay, Glenys Groves, Preston Heyman, and Youth all show up in this film. And it’s kind of fucking exhilarating. Heyman tells his classic story of wanting to work with Bush after seeing her on TV and then immediately getting a phone call from her requesting him to come to the studio, but there’s neat little tidbits of info too. Stewart Avon Arnold talking about the magic of Lindsay Kemp is sweet, as is KT Bush Band mainstays Brian Bath and Vic King reminiscing about the time Bush wrote “James and the Cold Gun.” It all goes to show that Kate Bush is an artist who, four decades after her entrance into the pop charts, is still a figure who people love working with. Del Palmer is conspicuously absent, but given how many major Dreams of Orgonon players show up, that seems like a worthwhile sacrifice.
If the programme has a major flaw, it’s the habitual one of Bush documentaries, which is that they spend far too much time on The Kick Inside and the Tour of Life. About thirty minutes of its fifty-two minutes spent on Bush’s pre-Never for Ever career, which is only about 2 years out of four decades of music. Puzzlingly, it doesn’t spend nearly as much time on Hounds of Love, the other over-signified (though deservedly so) portion of Bush’s career. This is basically a delayed 40th anniversary special. You’d hope that this would mean a broader career retrospective rather than a film that mostly skips over Lionheart, Never for Ever, and The Red Shoes, but alas, we’re still dealing with the mainstream view of Kate Bush here, which is that she recorded “Wuthering Heights” and “Running Up That Hill” and nothing else ever.
Looking back at Bush’s whole career is an especially telling act now: the gap between now and the release of 50 Words for Snow is longer than that between Aerial and Director’s Cut. Bush has remastered her entire discography in what feels like a career retrospective move. It’s plausible that Bush won’t release another album in the lifetime of this blog, in which case we’ll be ending with Before the Dawn, another career retrospective. It’s not impossible Kate Bush will release another album, but I suspect we’d all be surprised as she did.
Nonetheless, ARTE has offered a fine contribution to the canon of Bush documentary filmmaking here. It doesn’t have anything quite on the level of a stoned Tori Amos talking about “Babooshka,” but it’s nonetheless very good and well worth seeing. Francophones and fans unperturbed by a lack of subtitles (heroes) should watch it immediately. Others can wait for an English-subtitled version to show up on YouTube. It’s worth the wait. You won’t be disappointed waiting for Kate Bush.