11 June 2014

PULP: A Film About Life, Death & Supermarkets

It's not often that I'll just forsake any allusions to reviewing something and simply do a blog, but Pulp: A Film About Life, Death & Supermarkets isn't the kind of film that invites that sort of scrutiny. It may well be the most endearingly cobbled-together bit of filmmaking I've ever seen in the cinema and I'm sure I'd personally be a bit less kind to it if I wasn't a huge fan of Pulp.

If you're somehow unfamiliar with the band, Pulp was a rock band from Sheffield fronted by Jarvis Cocker, which found belated overnight success in the 1990s at the vanguard of Britpop and broke apart somewhat unremarkably in 2002. Jarvis talks about his dissatisfaction with the first ending in this documentary, directed by Florian Habicht, which covers what he calls a process of "tidying up" ten years later and sending the band off properly with a farewell tour. Specifically, the film is about Pulp's fanbase in their hometown and their final concert in December 2012.

Seeing as how this is going to be a bit of a rave, I'll put the down side in front before digging into the parts I enjoyed. I'm not familiar with Habicht's work, but his presentation is slightly rubbish, to the point where nothing other than his obvious enthusiasm for the subject keeps you from wishing that someone else had taken a run at this. He appears more interested in the fans (the common people, if you like) than in the band, but even while paying equal attention to each, there are points where he interrupts interviewees to go off on a tangent and even turns the camera around to look at a randomly passing van in the middle of one subject's sentence. Accidents like this might happen in the course of filming, but they make the film look amateurish when they make it into the final edit.

Handily, the subjects elevate the film beyond a presentation that leaves something to be desired. Jarvis Cocker is Jarvis Cocker, so there's not much need to explain how his charisma makes him the most reliably watchable part of the film, whether he's changing a tyre in a bizarre but amusing bookend, or humping some speakers to This Is Hardcore in the throes of a signature live tour-de-force. He outright admits that he's playing for the cameras at one point in the film and even if Habicht sometimes forces it, he's an undeniably enjoyable screen presence.

Although Jarvis inevitably hogs the limelight, that doesn't mean his bandmates are any less compelling- it's particularly uplifting to hear keyboardist Candida Doyle talking about her motivation to do the farewell tour after struggling with arthritis and heartwarming to see drummer Nick Banks sponsoring his daughter's football team, who view them as "Dad's crap band." It's not really an entry level documentary, but there's nothing inherently wrong with being "for the fans."

Those fans are present and correct throughout the film, as Habicht trawls through Sheffield talking to people about the band. Some of them are utterly random and there's weird precedence given to oblivious contributors both very young and very old. There's generally some unique if slightly off-kilter casting, like Terry the newspaper man, who looks something like a Jim Henson creation and pops up throughout the film. The highlight comes from a young musician (whose name I wish I could remember) who coins a classic anecdote about living in the North being better than living in London, because when you get mugged, at least you'll probably know the people who are mugging you.

These are the bits that made me happy it wasn't just a concert movie. The live performances from Pulp's sold-out final gig (to date) at the Motocross Arena are superbly shot and enormously enjoyable. It's so good to watch that it only further infuriated me that I wasn't enough of "a live music person" at the time, even for my favourite band's last gig, to pull my finger out and go see them. I can tell you that there are many reasons why I'd like to go back in time about two years and beat the shit out of myself, but this would be the biggie. If the upcoming Blu-ray has the whole concert as an extra, it'll be a must-buy- if I sing along then it might just get me through the angst.

There are a couple of howling omissions in terms of songs that never feature in full (Do You Remember The First Time, Disco 2000, Razzmatazz) considering that the film keeps coming back to This Is Hardcore and (inevitably) Common People, but then it's far from an all-encompassing look at the band. It doesn't provide a complete picture of any aspect of the band's career or discography, but it's delightfully personal and intimate in the parts it does cover. One of the unexpected highlights of the film is an acoustic singalong of Help The Aged with a load of pensioners in a cafe and that's the kind of thing that sets it apart from other rock-docs and concert films.

If you're a Pulp fan, this film about life, (mostly) death, (a little bit) and supermarkets (I don't see anyone else smiling in here) is completely essential, if never really definitive. It's fleetingly profound in its indulgent talking-head, waggling-elbow sessions with Jarvis, its relatable exploration of fandom in Sheffield and, of course, the discovery of the absolute ledge that is Terry the newspaper man.

Pulp: A Film About Life, Death & Supermarkets is released on DVD and Blu-ray on 7 July, but it's still showing in selected cinemas.
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If you've seen Pulp, why not leave a comment below? Nothing would make me happier than if we could all get into quoting lyrics at each other, so I'll go first... "We were born within an hour of each other..."

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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