Pulp: a Film about Life, Death and Supermarkets


By Vitezslav Chovanec


A live concert from Pulp was always a special occasion. But when it’s the last time, then it’s more then just a concert. It’s a massive good-bye party – the last chance to see your idols and the manifestation of the love of music that is shared between band and audience. You can see this magical event from the very start, hitting you in the first minute of the movie. And when it stops, you just want more. But you need to wait for it.

“It is good to end your career where it started,” poses Jarvis Cocker, the front man of the band, while he changes a tire on his car. We see him, along with other members of the Pulp group and their fans, mostly in the urban setting of Sheffield, their hometown. Sheffield is very significant in this movie. It’s not just a background – honestly, you can find better one. Sheffield is in the air, embedded in the atmosphere of the movie.

The city comes to life as we hear Pulp fans talking about what this concert and the music means to them. We can see this common interest pulsating through the whole city. “Imagine you will wake tomorrow and all music disappeared,” appears as a spray-painted slogan on a bridge somewhere in the city. “The musicians are always nervous, when they play in their city,“ states Jarvis’s mother, with accordance to the other group members.

After the live concert shots in the first scene, the story starts earlier and progresses through a whole day to the final live show. Even though it was not possible to follow so many storylines in one day while shooting, the idea of a one-day event helps to develop a special atmosphere of growing expectations, growing nervously.

This film is not a usual portrait of one band. Florian Habicht, the director of this documentary feature, decided to divide the focus between fans and the band equally. We can see interviews with ordinary fans casually asked on the street, to the same extent that we see interviews with the pop stars themselves. This helps to share the common experience that culminates in the concert.

We can see fans of all ages, describing why they love the Pulp. Everybody can find some a song that speaks directly to them. Elderly people sing, “Help the Aged” in a café diner, a young American woman finds her theme song in lyrics about single mothers, teenagers get randy when Jarvis sings about sex, which is shamelessly often. The ladies of the Sheffield Harmony harmonize the hits with childish glee on their faces. You can see the joy of Pulp’s music in every corner.

The interviews with the members of Pulp are different here – they’re more open and intimate compared to what we’re used to watching on TV, where the bandleader takes the stage as other members just stand by as extras. This is probably the reason why Florian Habicht speaks with them separately to ensure that everyone has the space to express himself. And it works very well, as they reveal personal thoughts and feelings.

The film is stylistically different in the concert scenes. We hear sound overlapping and powering the atmosphere, together with slow-motion shots of Jarvis making the show. The focus is again divided equally between on-stage action and the audience. The common experience is transformed into some sort of dialogue here, as we see the audience reacting simultaneously to the show and the band reacting back. The combination of point of views, from the audience and the band, is a very powerful device here. But as it’s used in unexpected places, it becomes an innovative element in this genre.

Pulp is not just a regular band and it deservers not just a regular portrait. This wish comes true with a very warm, but honest, documentary film that really gets you. “I want to live with common people,“ sings Jarvis, as a part of the large Pulp community, the same as ordinary people. The song is still echoing when we are back with Jarvis, changing the tire somewhere in Sheffield. These Pulp people are just gorgeous, they are famous, they are common and they are non-fiction.