Pulp: a Film About Life, Death & Supermarkets

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My high school yearbook quote in 1997 was from the Pulp song Bar Italia “If we get through this alive, I’ll meet you next week, same place, same time.” I thought that line was ever-so-clever, as it denotes the drudgery of high school and also because no one knew who Pulp was.  Until reaching college, I was alone in my fandom of Pulp, despite the fact that they are one of the greatest English bands of all time and were wildly popular in Europe when I was a teen.  I randomly found out about them from alternate radio and their music has been a lasting part of my life ever since.  The music has a movie-like grandiosity, with knowing, darkly humourous lyrics which intrigued me as a young woman. I may not have been able to directly relate to the song I Spy, with such lyrics as

“You see you should take me seriously/Very seriously indeed/Cause I’ve been sleeping with your wife for the past sixteen weeks/Smoking your cigarettes, drinking your brandy,messing up the bed you chose together/And in all that time I just wanted you to come home unexpectedly one afternoon and catch us at it in the front room”

yet I sure was excited by the delivery. Such honesty about adult life and the trouble of it all, paired with lush music, was too much to resist.

The documentary, Pulp: A Film About Life, Death & Supermarkets(2014), directed by Florian Habicht, is an exploration of how the band Pulp evolved as well as the city they hail from, Sheffield, England. This is not a concert film or even a strict biographical overview, it’s more of a series of portraits of the residents of Sheffield and how the band Pulp fits into the city. There are multiple interviews with Sheffield residents young and old and how they feel about the band. All generations are equally proud of their hometown band, with varying levels of knowledge of their musical output. Some amusing episodes involve an older woman critiquing why Pulp is better than Blur and a young girl hearing Disco 2000 for the first time and meekly stating that it might be good to dance to.

The interviews with Jarvis Cocker and the rest of the band reveal some insights on their relationships and how their sound changed over 20 years. We see the drummer Nick Banks, who coaches his daughter’s soccer team, complete with Pulp-sponsored kits, looking like a fairly normal guy. Keyboard player Candida Doyle speaks of how an early diagnosis of arthritis lead her into music, which helped her to overcome her affliction. The other band members are shown to be equally regular, or Common People, even Cocker to an extent. Jarvis is obviously the most noticeable member of the band and speaks about how celebrity was not much to his liking.  For such a revered and celebrated band, this documentary almost makes them seem like a humble outfit from a small city who just happened to stumble into stardom. A very interesting stylistic choice for both the band and the director; too self-deprecating to admit their own excellence, they downplay their successes and strive to still be of a Sheffield-mindset.

The cinematography displayed in this film is masterful. Not to be unkind, but Sheffield, England is a little rough around the edges. The camera captures the housing schemes, graffiti and fish markets with crisp clarity. Sheffield may not be the most aesthetically pleasing city; the people are the real draw.  The most engaging portion of the film is a vignette in which a diner full of elders sing Help the Aged.  Hearing the lyrics “Help the aged/One time they were just like you/Drinking, smoking cigs and sniffing glue” sung with playful gusto by a group of white-haired seniors is delightful and touching.

Pulp is a band which never went with the trends and produced their own unique sound and style, not unlike the city of Sheffield.  The elderly, the young, the outcast all collectively gained understanding and comfort from Pulp’s music. The farewell concert the band plays in Sheffield is interspersed within the daydream scenes of Sheffield, a quant portrait of music and regular life. I wanted more songs and was left with a bit of longing. As Cocker states, being on stage is the closest thing to living in the moment.  “NB: Please do not read the lyrics whilst listening to the recordings.”

A few of my favorite songs:

Sunrise from the album We Love Life

Seductive Barry from the album This is Hardcore

Underwear from the album Different Class

 

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