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From: firstname.lastname@example.org (ronald hill)
Date: Fri, 22 May 1992 23:30:28 -0700
Subject: Melody Maker 1984 by Steve Sutherland
Review of The Single File
From Melody Maker 1984
Reprinted in Breakthough 4
by Steve Sutherland
"Like making a film of a book," Kate Bush is wary of the video process. She knows it can intrude on the listener imagination and she's acutely aware that the video is the song compromised," that when she's writing the songs, she's in "the actual place" whereas, when she's filming, much mystery could be sacrificed to the concrete image.
"The Single File", a collection of her 12 promo videos, not only shames any negligent impressions of Kate as some Lena Zavaroni figure, pampered and sold cheaply by her record company, but also illustrates, perhaps for the first time, an artist defeating the deadening video process, using visuals to further rather then wrap-up the scope of her songs.
Her earliest effort, "Wuthering Heights", was simplicity itself. Inspired choreographically by her favourite ballets and enhanced by some trick afterimage photography, it was supposed to convey "a feeling of the person being a spiritual presence," and Kate turned in a performance that flattered the book, served the song and projected her personality. A star was born.
The follow-up single, "The Man With The Child In His Eyes", proved more of a problem. Kate's songs are, by nature, introverted and, as singles were seldom chosen with visual presentation in mind, the task was to preserve the song's delicate confessional while simultaneously trying to sell it. She settle on softfocus:
"The lighting guy did a complete try on that one. It was really extraordinary. I was sitting on Perspex that had banks of lights under it, like frying on an oven. I was so hot! BUt it got that feeling of great lightness, like floating without any sense of weight at all."
By comparison, the possibilities presented by "Hammer Horror" were boundless. The title itself suggested all manner of gory excess but Kate, mindful that the look on the victim's face linger longer in the memory than the mechanics of the murder, plumped for character over effects. Involving another dancer for the first time, she acted out an intriguing ritual of love and hate, she Ophelia-made often the aggressor, he the hooded executioner bound almost blamelessly to his task.
"Songs have very specific moods and personalities and I feel very limited in as much as I'm always, to a certain extent, me," she explains. "I'm never sure if I'm able to create the character in the song. I really rely on my instincts because I don't feel I can act.
"I don't feel that making videos is acting because I've written the songs and created the characters in my mind. It's the subject matter, not the personalities that moves me. Like "Wow", though it could apply to any kind of art and the character is an actor, it's really talking about the music business where a lot of things are really unpleasant, but the incredible thing about it is the music and how it's worth all the effort, all the rubbish, to get that bit of gold."
Whatever her reservations, "Wow" was a success, again through its simplicity. Alone on a stage, she expresses all the song's loathing and compassion simply by staling looks into the lens, whereas the video for "Them Heavy People" uncharacteristically surrendered the song's examination of mental turmoil to a corny slapstick gangster routine.
"We liked the idea of beating each other up and enjoying it," she confesses. As always the video was a self aware "performance" but it was her last "fun one".
Out of nowhere, "Breathing" introduced new possibilities, demonstrating that a video needn't be a promotional afterthought; on the contrary, it could do a great service existing alongside its companion song, adding another interpretation rather than mugging it up. From now on, nothing would get into a kate Bush video without some symbolic interest.
"Ever since 'Breathing' I've wanted to make videos like little films," she admits, and with the added dimension of dance, her songs took on several simultaneous lives.
Discounting [!!!!] "Suspended in Gaffa" which was thrown together and "There Goes A Tenner", which clumsily [!!!] attempted to follow a plot, the remainder of The Single File is a treasurehouse.
"Breathing" is split in two, the baby in the womb being born into a future nuclear age, screaming "Leave me something to breath!" while an atom bomb explodes in reverse, "just to try and say 'No, don't let it happen', which is a positive statement, I hope..."
"Army Dreamers", her favourite ("I got everything I wanted to say across") deals emotionally with wasted life through a mother-son relationship and still managed to comment, though Busby Berkeley routines, on the media's presentation of war, while "Sat In Your Lap" ushers in a whole roster of dunces and jesters in an attempt to articulate visually the songs contrary reactions to knowledge. It fails but superbly.
Having something to say inevitably harmed Kate's commercial appeal. Her songs grew so swollen with import that the tunes could barely cope while the videos became increasingly alluring, climaxing in "The Dreaming" where a straightforward protest against pink creatures") [sic?] breeds in a aboriginal atmosphere (Their music is so incredibly full of space and loneliness") and blossoms into a full-blown mime of man's folly.
"The big wind rushing in at the end is the idea of the white man on his way in to steal the aborigines' soul and plunder their hills for plutonium. It's involved with time travel. The doves released express the freedom of something that could have been caught or killed but has been given the chance. I suppose that was a little glimpse of hope, otherwise..."
And then, of course, there's "Babooshka", perhaps her most famous promo, perfectly illustrative of her technique. The plot, inspired by the strange pactise of Victorian wives trying to catch out their husbands by sending them love letters under assumed names, could have been treated straight, much in the same way that Heaven 17 presented "Come Live With Me". But that wasn't the point.
The plot may have been central to the song but it's the woman - why she does it and how she feels now she's trapped herself into jealousy - that's the meat of the video.
Thus "Babooshka" exists in two forms - the story on the record and the study on video, a duality approaching self-critique. No other video I can recall has attained comparable dramatic completion.
To the Reaching Out (Interviews) Table of Contents
"The pull and the push of it all..." - Kate Bush
Marvick - Hill
Willker - Mapes
Grepel - Love-Hounds