Sydney Film Festival Review: Pulp: A Film About Life, Death & Supermarkets (UK, 2014)

Pulp

Pulp are a band of the people. So it should come as no surprise that the film about their last concert performance in their Sheffield hometown is at times more about their fans and the locals then the self-deprecating group itself. Florian Habicht’s (Love Story) documentary, Pulp: A Film About Life, Death & Supermarkets plays out like a humorous love letter to Sheffield as well as playing tribute to its most famous exports.

The film is far more offbeat and crazy than Blur’s No Distance Left To Run or The Stone Roses: Made Of Stone. But Pulp’s biggest success is in the fact that it sets off the beaten track, avoids hagiography and rock star clichés of chorus-verse-chorus concert films and talking head celebrities praising the band’s every move. Instead, Habicht takes the microphone to the common people Jarvis Cocker was singing about and lets them give an insight into life in a Northern English town and the eccentric genius of the band.

Pulp’s biggest pitfall is that a lot of their career is simply alluded to and much of the story is actually glossed over. The group are interviewed and keyboardist, Candida Doyle gives a revealing insight into her rheumatoid arthritis. Drummer, Nick Banks also lets us in to see a part of his family because the band sponsors his daughter’s football team (the teenager actually calls the group, “crap”).

But the show really belongs to the star, Jarvis Cocker, or the man that guitarist, Mark Webber describes as having the “potential” to be a common person. The gangly front man is frequently at hand with a funny quip or aside, whether it be taking us through his cold, flu and incontinence medication he packs away on tour to changing a tyre to feeding the ducks in the park. It’s amazing that this shy, awkward and clever man who expresses himself so strongly in concerts and commands your attention so easily, has such difficulty communicating whilst he is in a relationship. The concert footage of their final show on 8 December 2012 proves that this man is a star, albeit an unconventional one.

In addition to learning about disastrous shows and university subjects dedicated the band, the audience is also treated to footage of a colourful group of eccentrics from Sheffield. These include a number of older women (one claims to like the group over Blur while another pair brazenly claim that Jarvis Cocker is Joe Cocker’s son when he’s not). There’s vox pops with Terry the local newspaper seller, a keen knife-maker and two young children who are introduced to “Disco 2000” for the first time. It’s interesting to see some reinterpretations of the band’s music, from a local dance outfit doing a routine to the aforementioned song, to Sheffield Harmony singing “Common People” and perhaps the most striking scene, a group of older people singing “Help The Aged” in a greasy spoon café.

Pulp’s farewell performance is electrifying and is at times at odds with the quieter, observational stories and interviews that pepper this film. The exclusion of many important cuts from the band’s discography may leave some fans reeling while others will no doubt be swept away by this oblique, distinct and imaginative portrait. Pulp were never a conventional band and they were always artists that were difficult to pigeonhole and this concert film/music documentary/mockumentary/bizarre travelogue/rockumentary suits these quintessential British oddballs to a tee.

Review score: FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Pulp: A Tale of Life, Death & Supermarkets made its Australian premiere as part of the Sydney Film Festival.