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Kate Bush

The story behind Kate Bush’s Cloudbusting video

Released 30 years ago this month, we speak to the people who helped create one of the star’s greatest moments

“​Sometime in 1985, a package arrived with a video cassette and an autographed album,” says Peter Reich. “My wife and children, who were five and two at the time, listened, watched and were entranced. Quite magically, this British musician had tapped precisely into ​a unique and magical fulfilment of father-son devotion, emotion and understanding. They had captured it all.”

Everyone knows that “Wuthering Heights”, Kate Bush’s debut single of 1978, was inspired by Emily Brontë’s gothic tale of unfulfilled passion and madness on the moors. But how many people know how one boy’s relationship with his father, a disciple of Freud who fled Nazi-occupied Austria to pursue his studies on the orgasm in America, came to inspire another, similarly cherished piece of pop-culture history?

If you’ve seen the video for “Cloudbusting”, released 30 years ago this month, you’ll know that it’s a cinematic, oddly moving tale of a young boy, played by Kate Bush in a ragamuffin wig, and his idyllic adventures with his dad, played by Donald Sutherland, who is working on a giant ray-gun contraption that can shoot at clouds to make it rain. At some point in the video, a group of men in suits arrive to snatch the boy’s father away, but not before the boy can reach into his dad’s jacket pocket and pull out a slim volume called “A Book of Dreams”.

It sounds like fiction of the most fanciful kind, but in fact, the video – and book – are drawn entirely from life. Written by Peter Reich and published in 1973, A Book of Dreams is an extraordinarily touching account of a father, one Wilhelm Reich, as seen through the eyes of his doting son. Reich senior was a controversial figure in the field of psychoanalysis. On the one hand, his pioneering work laid the blueprint for the sexual revolution of the 1960s, attracting interest from Albert Einstein and Norman Mailer, among others. On the other, his ‘orgone accumulator’ invention – a metal box which Reich claimed harnessed the sexual energy of his patients for alleged benefits to their health – brought an injunction from the US authorities that would eventually land him in prison, where he died at the age of 60 in 1957. It’s the moment of his arrest that provides the book and the video with its heartbreaking focal point, as a child’s love for his father bumps up against the impassive forces of McCarthy-era moral panic.

“(My dad) was the father of body therapy and the sexual revolution,” says Reich of his father. “In Germany in the 1930s, he led a political movement that called for, among other things, the abolition of laws against abortion and homosexuality, free birth-control advice and contraceptives, health protection of mothers and children, nurseries in factories and in other large employment centres, the abolition of laws prohibiting sex education and home leave for prisoners.”

Another of Reich’s inventions, of course, was the Cloudbuster, the fantastical rainmaking machine that features in Kate Bush’s video. We pick up the story of the shoot, speaking to key contributors including Donald Sutherland, director Julian Doyle and editor Terry Gilliam, with additional insights from Peter Reich. Watch the video and get the story below.

Kate Bush (excerpt from a Kate Bush Club newsletter, 1985): “I was inspired by a book that I first found on a shelf nearly nine years ago. It was just calling me from the shelf, and when I read it I was very moved by the magic of it. It’s about a special relationship between a young son and his father. The book was written from a child’s point of view. His father is everything to him; he is the magic in his life, and he teaches him everything, teaching him to be open-minded and not to build up barriers... But there’s nothing he can do about his father being taken away, he is completely helpless. But it’s very much more to do with how the son does begin to cope with the whole loneliness and pain of being without his father. It is the magic moments of a relationship through a child's eyes, but told by a sad adult.”

Terry Gilliam: “Kate called me to direct the video and I said, ‘No, how about Julian (Doyle)?’ They had a great time shooting, but somewhere in the editing a conflict developed and I became the mediator. Kate knows exactly what she’s doing, she knows what she wants. She’s the sweetest person on the planet but she’s absolute steel inside!”

Julian Doyle: “Kate came to me with a storyboard, which I remember had the sun coming up with a face on it. She was a lovely lady, with a great smile that she gave generously. I understood her influences – like, I knew immediately where ‘It’s coming through the trees’ (film sample on ‘The Hounds of Love’) came from and things like that. I also knew about Wilhelm Reich, because there was interest in him among the new women’s movement which was exploring the female orgasm and I was close to the women involved.

Donald Sutherland: “Barry Richardson, who was the hairdresser on Nic Roeg’s Don’t Look Now, asked me if I’d do a music video with Kate Bush. I told him no and we went on to other conversations. A couple of days later there was a knock on my door. I lived in the Savoy Hotel (in London). On the river. Suite 312. I loved it there. So cosseted. So private. Only the floor butler rang the door. I opened it. There was no one there. I heard a voice saying hello and I looked down. Standing down there was a very small Kate Bush. Barry had told her where I lived. What can you do? She wanted to explain what her video was about. I let her in. She sat down, said some stuff. All I heard was ‘Wilhelm Reich’. I’d taken an underground copy of his The Mass Psychology of Fascism with me when I went to film (Bernardo) Bertolucci’s Novecento in Parma. Reich’s work informed the psychological foundations of Attila Mellanchini, the character Bernardo had cast me to play. Everything about Reich echoed through me. He was there then and now he was here. Sitting across from me in the person of the very eloquent Kate Bush. Synchronicity. Perfect. She talked some more. I said OK and we made ‘Cloudbusting’. She’s wonderful, Kate Bush. Wonderful. I love that I did it. (What do I remember) about doing it? I remember being in the car and the hill and them taking me, taking Reich, away and looking back through the back window of the car and seeing her, seeing Reich’s son Peter, standing there. And I remember the first morning on set seeing her coming out of her trailer smoking a joint and I cautioned her, saying she shouldn’t smoke that, it’d affect her work, and she looked at me for a second and said she hadn’t been straight for nine years and I loved her.”

Peter Reich: “At one point in the video, the federal agents in black suits pull from a file cabinet a newspaper article about a rainmaker. In fact, during a drought​ in 1953, blueberry growers hired Dr Reich to make it rain in blueberry country along the Maine coast. I was along for that rain-making operation in the summer of 1953 and helped crank the levers. No rain was forecast. A most vivid memory: being aroused in the early morning hours just before dawn and led to an open door to observe a steady rain.​ The incident with federal agents coming on our property occurred a couple of years later, that day in August 1956 when I ran up that hill.  That was the summer the government burned several tonnes of Wilhelm Reich’s books and equipment.”

Julian Doyle: “I thought it should look like a real story – like a film, not a pop video. I wanted to point out the story was real, which is why I had Kate take out the book. I also wanted more time so I doubled up a section of the music. Kate lengthened it even more, then she wanted to change the edit.  I thought they were mistakes – so in bringing in Terry (Gilliam) it stopped her making bad changes to the edit as she accepted what Terry said. The editing process is very difficult – as it goes on for some time you have to be quite stubborn in character, keeping a balance in being open but not changing (things) because you are bored with them. Someone like Eric Idle, who is extremely smart and quick-witted, is a disaster in the cutting room, because he gets bored quickly and soon wants to cut out every joke.

“I was pleased we got up early to get the (shot with the) sun rising behind Kate falling down. I was also pleased with the track to close-up (on Donald Sutherland) where he changes from smiling to worried and then I pan into light flare. (When Donald had finished shooting his scenes) I said to him, ‘We have finished with you, thanks – but I just want you to walk away down the hill towards the sun.’ He looked great taking off his jacket. The very last shot of the shoot was the very last shot of Kate punching the air. There are only seven frames before I cut.”

Peter Reich:  ​“Watching it for the first time, and ever since, not infrequently, the video’s emotional power is overwhelming and enduring, even after 30 years – or 60 years, for me. I did meet Kate once or twice.  She gave me a very British umbrella, how very appropriate, one rainmaker to another.​”