Genre: Documentary, Music
Directed by: Florian Habicht
Starring: Nick Banks, Jarvis Cocker, Candida Doyle, Richard Hawley
In the year that sees Britpop celebrate an unofficial twentieth anniversary it seems apt that Pulp, the intellectual misfits of an era that effectively celebrated being popular, finally got their own film. A portrait of hometown Sheffield and working class life as much as a music documentary, Pulp: A Film about Life, Death and Supermarkets is a heart-warming yet peculiar coming together, a potentially final farewell that stays true to the band’s oddball sensibility.
Introducing the film at the Sheffield Documentary Festival, director Florian Habicht expressed his intense love for the band famous for Common People and Disco 2000. This admiration resonates throughout the entire documentary, spread across the various fans and local residents that also feature alongside the band members. The film loosely follows a narrative, charting the band’s journey towards their epic homecoming show at Sheffield’s Motorpoint Arena, but its success is in creating a three-hundred and sixty degree representation of the Steel City, its influence on the band, and in turn their effect on its people. The New Zealand director seems as obsessed with Northern culture as he is with the Britpop heroes, and this makes for truly enchanting cinema.
With a plethora of rousing live clips and some great interview footage, Habicht presents Jarvis Cocker and co. on top form. The singer is typically the most featured of any band member, but with such a vibrant personality that’s hardly anything to complain about. The other musicians make welcome appearances, and their sense of normality compared to the eccentric frontman is truly charming. Drummer Nick Banks for example is seen coaching his daughter’s football team and could be easily confused with any of the featured locals throughout the film, themselves as much the stars of the show as Pulp.
Capturing the Sheffield natives’ endearing working class attitudes perfectly, Habicht embraces their various quirks, never mocking but rather embracing them. Whilst some have questionable links to and knowledge of the band, “I thought Joe Cocker was his uncle”, it’s the everyman aura that they convey that proves just how important Britpop and Pulp were to the common people. The great contradiction of Pulp’s ability to observe everyday life and connect with so many working class people despite Cocker’s persona as the sexy, unusual outcast runs parallel with Habicht’s directing style. He is evidently intrigued as much as he is in awe of normal British life yet somehow captures it flawlessly, each character and personality joyfully recognisable.
Though the viewpoint of the outsider is crucial to making the film work, at times Habicht’s lack of journalistic conviction can cause the film to occasionally fall flat. Allusions are made to darker moments in Pulp’s lifespan, but as Habicht seeks to construct a romantic portrayal of the band he adores what should be revealing journalism is substituted for nostalgic sentimentality. As a conventional music documentary therefore it arguably fails, but then Pulp never did things the normal way, so why should this?
What makes the great music documentaries a cut above the rest is their portrayal of music and its effect on the world. Pulp: A Film about Life, Death and Supermarkets passes this test with flying colours. It may airbrush a few grimy details but for a group of musicians whose career has finally come full circle, delving into the darker corners of their past would be futile. An endearing portrait of music’s role in life, death and the average supermarket, this is an unconventional but ultimately rewarding documentary of one of working class Britain’s greatest exports.