Director: Florian Habicht
Starring: Jarvis Cocker, Nick Banks, Candida Doyle, Steve Mackey, Mark Webber
Running Time: 90 minutes
Synopsis: Sheffield’s finest, PULP return to their home city for a farewell gig in this documentary that explores both the band’s memories and the great affection they’re held in
Do you remember the first time? Let me take you back. It’s 1995 and clubs up and down the land are filled with girls wearing “I’m Common” T-shirts. The Daily Mirror is freaking out about CD single inlay sleeves (yes, people used to buy them) that promote drug use, and a Sheffield band headlines the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury at short notice, replacing The Stone Roses to a rapturous reception.
Often labelled as Britpop, in reality PULP was so much more: sleazy-pop-disco-synth-rock, but with Jarvis Cocker’s confessional tales of urban mediocrity and sexual shame beguiling and romancing us. And that’s kind of what Florian Habicht’s documentary does too; it draws us in for a wry but warm snapshot of the band. And before you ask, Jarvis is the focus. Not that we don’t hear from the others (Candida is very honest about being diagnosed with arthritis at 16).
But what makes PULP: A FILM ABOUT LIFE, DEATH AND SUPERMARKETS…so charming is the way Habicht places the city of Sheffield and its people centre stage, along with the music. In fact, if you’re not that familiar with PULP, you might be a bit perplexed – you won’t get many extended clips of the band playing, nor a potted history of their rise from indie obscurity to the mainstream hysteria of Different Class, to the gritty disillusionment of This is Hardcore, and beyond to their breakup in 2002.
Instead PULP’s story is told in a non-linear way, partly by a cast of Sheffield locals of all ages and backgrounds, partly by fans, and of course the band itself. Grounded in the now defunct Castle Market and the estates of Steel City, we hear from fish counter sellers, newspaper vendors, musicians, knife makers and kids way too young to have known about PULP the first time round. Richard Hawley (in PULP for about five seconds) flicks through the band’s albums in a local record shop and muses on Jarvis doing the washing up.
It’s typical PULP – that witty self-deprecating humour, probably summed up by two older ladies discussing whether Jarvis is Joe Cocker’s son. And we get these little touches throughout: Jarvis changing a tyre or talking about the perils of fame (like a nut allergy apparently). But the real highlights are when Habicht gets various local groups to perform PULP’s hits. Sheffield Harmony sing Common People accapella, a dance troupe perform to Disco 2000 and, most touchingly, pensioners in a café sing Help the Aged, while reading true crime and celeb magazines. It’s a bizarrely bonkers but moving reflection on mortality, and it works.
Of course, there are some rewards for fans in the shape of live footage from the final date of their comeback tour in Sheffield. We get bits of This is Hardcore, Common People and F.E.E.L.I.N.G C.A.L.L.E.D L.O.V.E among others (and they all sound amazing). “I did want to give the story a happy ending – closure…” Jarvis tells us. But don’t be deceived by the title of this documentary—while the band may be the headliner, this is also very much the story of Sheffield and its people.
Eccentric, poignant and quintessentially PULP, Habicht’s documentary is a complete success. So…are you ready to remember the first time?
[usr=5] PULP: A FILM ABOUT LIFE, DEATH AND SUPERMARKETS…is released in selected UK cinemas from June 6th. Follow them on Twitter for up-to-date information.