NZIFF – Pulp: A Film About Life, Death & Supermarkets
Florian Habicht’s latest feature Pulp: a Film about Life, Death & Supermarkets sees the director applying his myriad talents and unique sensibility in the realm of music documentary. Joining forces with Pulp lead man Jarvis Cocker—and cutting strikingly similar tall lanky figures—the New Zealand artist-filmmaker profiles the man and band in the lead up to a one-off show (following a reunion tour after a nine year hiatus) in their hometown Sheffield, South Yorkshire in December of 2012. The documentary suffuses itself in its geographic locality and in the passion of the Pulp fans present in Sheffield for the long-awaited show.
Shot in his typically lo-fi style (and presumably on a low budget) Habicht presents interviews with a range of colourful locals in a similar fashion to the New York City on-the-street segments used in his 2011 feature Love Story. Included are various musicians with whom he has worked or inspired, the man who runs the newspaper kiosk in the town centre, a pair of elderly women who have heard of Jarvis Cocker (one claims to know him) but know little of the band’s music, the hard-core fans queuing for the Motorpoint Arena Sheffield show, and current employees from the supermarket referenced in the film’s title where Cocker once worked a part-time job—the singer-songwriter’s only ‘regular’ job as it turns out.
The film has the buoyant air characterising all Florian’s features, and whilst he utilises a healthy dose of humour, at the expense of both the band and the fans, the film is virtually cynicism free. The relatively grounded lives of most of the band members is contrasted against the more celebrity laden existence experienced by Jarvis Cocker. Sometime Pulp guitarist and erstwhile flatmate Richard Hawley jokingly comments on the lyrics of the song Dishes proclaiming that he never once remembers seeing Jarvis with a dishcloth in hand, though admits it might have happened when he was out! One of the funniest and most endearing moments for me was a most un-rock’n’roll scene in which a Jarvis runs the camera crew through his bag/rack of ague remedies for use in live concerts in case of headaches, muscle strains, or the need of ‘assistance’ to go, or not go, to the bathroom. Pulp exults in the excitement of the bands fans and the local pride of the Sheffield natives gleefully showcasing what could be represented as embarrassing eccentricities. These interactions come across with great warmth and vitality and the filmmaker allows them to digress into areas not strictly on topic. For instance Habicht rolls up to house somewhere and interviews a couple of young school kids who seem to have at least heard of Pulp, plays them a song from the band and invites comments and opinions. They seem to enjoy the music and after some talk of the song the girl starts talking about kids growing up too fast and that she really wants to experience her youth and not try to be older. Segments like this work well to help create an extra layer of interest not often allowed for in run-of-the-mill music documentaries, and should open up the film to an audience outside of just diehard fans and nostalgia hunters.
There is a level of sophistication in the editing and construction of the feature which is belied by the visual aesthetic. This is not to say that the film is shot poorly—there are a number of stunning shots such as a slow motion sequence of the trailing tails of toilet rolls thrown mid-concert into the crowd by the band—rather that the dominant style in the interviews is one of raw immediacy building the sense of intimacy the film projects. Habicht and co-writer/editor Peter O’Donoghue show intuitive editorial sense cutting together disparate yet related sounds and images. At one point audio from the Sheffield concert is mixed over a performance by a youth dance group and, conversely, there is live concert footage of the band playing their most recognisable single Common People but the audio is from a local women’s choir singing an a cappella version of the same. Choices like this simultaneously tie in with the theme of the song—i.e. ‘common people’ singing Common People over footage of the band who is seen to represent the Sheffield—and creatively illustrates the importance and impact of the band’s geographic roots on their music and vice-versa. The filmmakers also utilise an experience related by the band of an early Sheffield gig that went horribly wrong as way of structuring the footage from the final gig; rewriting the failures of the past as victorious swan song.
On top of the all else the film has to offer, the music is fantastic. The choices of music for background sequences is varied and interesting (rather than simply employing the entire back catalogue of lesser known Pulp songs). And Pulp’s live performance in that final Sheffield concert is outstanding. Fifty year old Cocker leaps and cavorts around the stage with an eccentric energy that would outdo many performers half his age to music that is just as electric. His voice is strong and true as he chimes anthems to the awkwardness of everyday human love and interaction. Pulp: a Film about Life, Death & Supermarkets seems a project match made in heaven: another strong entry in Habicht’s growing filmography and a joyous document of the band’s hometown farewell.