Emma Hynes wheels a trolley through the aisles of Florian Habicht’s film that captures both the essence of the band Pulp and their 2012 return to Sheffield to play out their final ever concert in the UK.
In 2011, Pulp fans were euphoric to learn that the band would embark on a series of concerts after a nigh on ten year hiatus. In 2012 the tour would conclude with a performance in their home town of Sheffield, director Florian Habicht (Love Story, 2011) would be on hand to document it, and the result is Pulp: a Film about Life, Death and Supermarkets. Opening the acclaimed Sheffield Doc Fest on 7th June, the film was screened simultaneously in over 100 cinemas across the UK and Ireland, and followed by a live Q&A with both band and director.
Anyone who has read the booklet accompanying a Pulp album will have encountered the following nota bene: “Please do not read the lyrics whilst listening to the recordings.” In his book, Mother, Brother, Lover: Selected Lyrics (2011), Jarvis Cocker explains, “This is because the words only exist to be part of something else, a song, and when you see them on a printed page you are seeing them taken out of their natural habitat – away from that ‘something else’” ( as appeared in an exclusive extract in The Guardian).
Much like this magic fusion of lyric and melody, Pulp are inextricably linked to the city of Sheffield and its people, and the threads of all three are woven together to form the tapestry of their unique world view. One-night stands, nature, joyriders, mothers, the elderly, loneliness, unrequited love and unrealised dreams are variously their subject matter, and the ordinary is made extraordinary through its combination with heart rending, uplifting and evocative melodies.
Florian Habicht does a wonderful job of absorbing this synthesis of band, city, people, words and music and reflecting their interdependence in a thoughtful and unassuming documentary. Interviews with band members, fans, and the people of Sheffield are interspersed with images of the city, its inhabitants, and footage of Pulp’s live performances, both past and present. Their music, which naturally provides the soundtrack throughout, acts as a binding element, and, as with lyrics and melody, the visual and aural become magically intertwined.
Far from a warts and all behind the scenes style music documentary focusing solely on the band and privileging revelation, Pulp: a Film about Life, Death & Supermarkets offers a modest selection of pensive musings on the part of band members concerning their own lives and work while celebrating Pulp’s origins and outlook. The city and its people, both young and old, are given a voice, and it is variously dignified, stoic, wise, uplifting and wry.
The live performances are genuinely moving in their beauty. Often in slow motion, they capture the very special nature of the live concert experience; an irretrievable series of moments for which there are often no words. Habicht’s privileging of music over voiceover during such sequences allows their significance to resonate. If words are included, they compliment the image rather than detract from it.
In the abovementioned book, Jarvis explains, “Pulp was the perfect name for the band because this was an attempt to find meaning in the mass-produced and throwaway world that was, after all, what we were surrounded by on a daily basis. To sift through and find some beauty in it all. Take a look – it’s there”. Florian Habicht has immersed himself in Pulp’s Sheffield, and successfully uses for his palate the self-same colours that animate the band’s musical artistry.
While the temptation naturally exists to intellectualise art of such quality, a refreshingly excitable Habicht revealed at the Q&A that he actively avoids doing so with regard to his subject matter, thus leaving himself open to whatever presents itself. Considering that the world brought to life by Pulp is one of raw lived experience, it’s entirely appropriate that a film about the group would be approached in this fashion.
Pulp: a Film about Life, Death & Supermarkets is a beautiful, moving and life-affirming documentary which celebrates a truly unique band and the world from whence its members came. Its triumph lies in its creation of a visual document which mirrors the synthesis found in Pulp’s work.