Florian Habicht’s ‘Pulp: a Film about Life, Death & Supermarkets’ is a homage to both the British indie-rockers Pulp and the city they grew up in. Filmed before the reformed band’s last-ever gig in their home town of Sheffield, Habocht’s quirky and funny documentary manages to capture the essence of the band without really telling us much about them.
Missing are any details of Pulp’s ten years as a pub band before songs like Common People and Disco 2000 swept them to international fame, and episodes such as frontman Jarvis Cocker’s infamous stage invasion at the 1996 Brit Awards, where he mooned Michael Jackson during the King of Pop’s rendition of “Earth Song”.
Instead, the film concentrates on local Sheffield characters who provide sometimes-uninformed opinions on life and the band. These include the belief of two older women that Jarvis is the son of throaty 60’s Sheffield singer Joe Cocker (he’s not), a newspaper vendor who insists that Pulp’s best song is Queen’s “We are the Champions” and the musings of a local musician called Bomar on the relative merits of Sheffield and London (in Sheffield, he says, at least you get mugged by people you know). Habicht’s camera prowls the city’s now-defunct Castle Market where Cocker used to work as a fishmonger’s assistant, a women’s choir performs a choral rendition of “Common People” and we observe a silent Cocker changing a car wheel beside a run-down public housing complex.
Habicht, whose previous offerings include 2011’s New York-based Love Story, took on this project on a hunch, and freely admits to going into it blind. Having never before visited Sheffield, the New Zealander-based filmmaker brings an outsider’s take to this northern English city best known as the home of the Full Monty and The Arctic Monkeys. Unfortunately, he can’t resist clichéd shots of derelict buildings and shoddy shopping streets, despite the fact that the city is actually pretty nice these days. However, the movie ultimately succeeds due to its strongest hands. These include sometimes often-hilarious comments from the deadpan Jarvis and the other band members, rare archive footage, and frankly amazing scenes from the 2012 final gig which demonstrate Pulp’s strength as a live act.
This movie is as much about emotional responses to Pulp as the group itself, and on this level it works best. Like 2010‘s Lemmy and 2008’s Anvil – the story of Anvil, this is much more than a rockumentary and should retaining the interest of most non-fans. Pulp: a Film about Life, Death & Supermarkets offers rare insight into a band never comfortable with fame, their engaging fans, and an eccentric city.