A fittingly eccentric portrait of the band and their Sheffield hometown
For a band who mean as much to as many people as Pulp do, putting together a documentary that captures their character with all its charm and idiosyncrasies was never going to be easy. To solve this conundrum, Jarvis Cocker and German-born, New Zealand-raised director Florian Habicht devised a plan to eschew almost every conceivable rock-doc cliché when making Pulp, which is subtitled: A Film About Life, Death And Supermarkets.
Most films about bands tend to recount their history, from first awkward meetings to success, difficult follow-up albums, drug addictions, musical differences, and finally, hopefully a redemptive reunion, all the while studding the story with famous faces recounting self-mythologising anecdotes.
Pulp, in contrast, revolves around the band’s final show on terra firma, at Sheffield’s Motorpoint Arena on 8 December 2012. There are shades of LCD Soundsystem’s epic ‘Shut Up And Play The Hits’, except that Habicht has screwed his shot so wide that it takes in the whole of Sheffield. We meet kids on the street, young musicians and a pair of elderly ladies who think Jarvis might be some relation to Joe Cocker. We see hardcore fans huddled outside the gig, newspaper vendors and drummer Nick Banks’ daughter’s football team playing in their Pulp-sponsored kits. Outside the band, the nearest thing we get to a talking head is when the writer Owen Hatherley, author of the excellent Pulp biography ‘Uncommon’, is brought in to explain why Jarvis is so good at sex – or at least writing about it.
The film really excels at finding new ways to show how Pulp’s music weaves into the fabric of their home town across generations. That means we see young children practising their dance routines to ‘Disco 2000’, the all-female Sheffield Harmony group cover of ‘Common People’ and then, later, old folk in a café singing ‘Help The Aged’.
If there’s a criticism to make, it’s only that Pulp are such a fascinating band that it’s a shame so much of the story is skipped over – we hear a little about the success of ‘Different Class’ and the dark fallout that led to ‘This Is Hardcore’, but the rest of their career is only briefly alluded to.
This is not a film concerned with telling those stories. What Habicht has created, with help from Cocker (Jarvis, not Joe) reaches the parts other documentaries don’t even come close to – like taking us inside the singer’s hanging garden of cold and flu remedies, which he takes with him on tour to cure any and all ailments, or asking a young girl to muse on aging and mortality. This is far from a conventional rock documentary, but Pulp were far from a conventional band, and that’s what makes it work.
Kevin EG Perry