Friday, 6 June 2014

Pulp: A Film About Life, Death and Supermarkets (2014)

Far from an overnight success, Pulp originally formed in 1978, yet only achieved any major recognition in the 90s with their unique brand of indie disco that included big hits such as Common People, Disco 2000 and Sorted for Es and Wizz. They became a staple of the Britpop movement, selling over 10 million albums worldwide yet always remained faithful to the place of their humble beginning, Sheffield. Pulp: A Film About Life, Death and Supermarkets (2014) documents the story of the band as they prepare, during their 2012 comeback, for their final hometown show. Director, Florian Habicht brings together live footage and interviews with the band and a handful of Sheffield’s most loyal and intriguing fans to shed some pragmatic light on the phenomena. Stories are told against the backdrop of a bustling market entrance, a dilapidated warehouse and a city of industry crushed by Thatcher’s regime. Captured in full northern grit, this Sheffield is a crumbling, forgotten city full of salt of the earth types and pop heroes - who aren’t too successful they can’t change their own car tyre - demonstrated expertly by charismatic frontman, Jarvis Cocker during the film’s introduction. Common People, the band’s career defining hit is the first live performance and as the song approaches it’s peak, the sound gently fades, and is then continued by a local harmony group. Habicht’s film is very much about the people that inspired Pulp’s music, the Common People themselves.

Sycophancy doesn’t exist in this city or in the confines of this film, instead what’s documented here is a celebration of the band’s solid foundations and the very root of their lyrical inspiration. Habitcht’s voice of authority occasionally emerges from beyond the camera to direct or question his non-media-trained subjects. Two children, listening to Pulp for the first time, dish out some valuable parental advice and reveal what it’s like to grow up in the North and decaying landscape aside, it’s surprisingly far from grim. The director’s enthusiasm and excitement for his subjects can be heard in his New Zealand Kiwi twang. The non-investigative approach to documenting the band’s story draws out some optimistic and inspiring stories from those who wander the city’s market place. The soundbites are often hilarious when they miss the mark. Habitcht has a great knack for choosing valuable and raw subjects and handles them with great respect and affection. You couldn’t make these people up, unless you were maybe Ken Loach or Mike Leigh.

Archive footage of the band’s earlier live performances give some scope to their journey. Keyboardist Candida Doyle tells of the days when times were so hard that they created their stage regalia using kitchen foil and attempted (and failed) to make their own dry ice, only a plateful at that. Pulp’s back catalogue warms the nostalgic cockles, as it is drip fed throughout and during some mesmerising concert footage that serves to remind how captivating a performer Jarvis Cocker can be. Cover versions from Sheffield Harmony and a heartwarming rendition of Help The Aged in a cafe, demonstrate the rewarding influence the band’s success have had on the community. One would perhaps expect a Pulp documentary to focus on Cocker and give insight to the man behind the performer but this documentary is not the platform for such. Instead the focus is spread evenly, ensuring that all band members get equal recognition for their part.

The Pulp film tells a heartwarming and commendably humble story of a band and the city that inspired their music. Pulp are a band of the people and like its many of the remarkable subjects documented here, they have no heirs, graces or delusions of grandeur. The band’s incredible live performances speak for themselves and without the blowing of proverbial trumpets. Subtle suggestions reflect Pulp’s largely unspoken phenomenon as Jarvis emerges, 10 million albums and a sell out comeback tour under his belt, through a thick cloud of properly formed dry ice, into the film’s neatly framed conclusion and to the cacophonous roar of a proud hometown singing wholeheartedly as Common People reaches its peak. This isn’t just a film about a band, it’s Sheffield’s story and Pulp, with a little help from Habicht, have the repertoire and capacity to tell it.

By Leigh Clark, also published on Cinevue

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