Pulp: A Film about Life, Death and Supermarkets
To the average southerner, Sheffield is anything but the “sex city” that Jarvis Cocker describes it as: the first words that come to mind when they think about the place are probably “steel” and “grey”. In Pulp: A Film About Life, Death and Supermarkets, though, the Northern city is romanticised to such a wondrous extent that it seems like the natural, not unlikely, birthplace of one of British music’s most beloved romantics. It’s less a film about the band itself, and more a film about the formative effect the town had on the group, and in particular Cocker’s lauded lyrics.
The documentary begins at the end, with Pulp’s last ever concert, fittingly held in Sheffield. It spends its running time interweaving footage of that with interviews with the band and a host of charming, hilarious Sheffieldians. The best of these ordinary characters is surely newspaper seller Terry, whose effortless wit competes with Cocker’s to provide the funniest moments of the film.
Pulp is a little lacking in insights into his mind, but in many ways it’s better for it. Director Florian Habicht was right to favour an exploration, or rather celebration, of the place that made Cocker a success, instead of a clichéd sycophantic analysis of the rock star. The film touches on Cocker’s obsession with sex but doesn’t really burrow into the matter too penetratingly, which, frustrating as it might be for some fans, is again probably for the best – so much as it helps the man retain that enigmatic quality that’s helped him become the star he is.
One of the most interesting moments arrives when guitarist Mark Webber is asked: “Is Jarvis common?” The answer is of course “no, not anymore” because he’s totally incapable of walking around without being hassled. Identifying the gulf between Cocker and the “common people” he sings about surprisingly doesn’t make him seem like a fraud. On the contrary, the moment only serves to make the humility with which he carries himself all the more praiseworthy. It’s heartwarming to see how little fame has changed him – a point only emphasised by the fact that, despite his seeming propensity to be the centre of attention, he wanted the documentary to devote most of its time to the band and the random fans he’s affected so meaningfully.
The concert itself looks like it was a beautiful farewell and unsurprisingly Pulp play with all the verve they’re famous for. Commenting on all the thrusting and weird sexual moves Cocker performs on stage, he makes the world’s least shocking admission when saying: “I haven’t been to see a choreographer”. People hoping for a thorough analysis of the history of Pulp and Cocker’s brain might well be left wanting, but this beguiling love letter to the city that made them is a much more fitting tribute to the legacy of a band who were always more interested in the ordinary man than themselves.
The editorial unit
Pulp: A Film about Life, Death and Supermarkets is released nationwide on 6th June 2014.
Watch the trailer for Pulp: A Film about Life, Death and Supermarkets here: