Saturday, July 26, 2014

Pulp: a film about life, death and supermarkets




Filmmaker Florian Habicht before a screening of his documentary 
Pulp: A Film about life, death and supermarkets, Civic Theatre, Auckland, July 25
This post is part of the 100 Days Project
Day 15
Florian Habicht's Pulp: a film about life, death and supermarkets is pretty much a work of genius.  I don't always respond this way to Habicht's films so either I'm growing more sophisticated (unlikely) or something else is at work.  
A meditation on fame, aging, music, sex and, yes, death, the documentary is driven as much by the 'common people' of Pulp's home town Sheffield as it is by so-real-it-hurts footage of the band's last ever show - in Sheffield.  The film winds its narrative between songs Common People and Hardcore allowing the thematic concerns of both to surface in a way which is both sophisticated and satisfying.  
Female singing groups, a female dance troup, a musician, three random little old ladies, a newspaper seller, two kids and a couple of butchers all share their thoughts on Pulp, their home town and life, in the candid and charming way audiences have come to expect of characters in Habicht's films.  
The fans are something else - the woman from Georgia, USA, the guy from Germany (interviewed in German because Habicht is that rare breed - a truly bilingual New Zealander), two Australian twins and an English girl who leads a round of Underwear while waiting with other hardcore fans to get entrance to the concert hall.  Their zealous love of the band serves as a perfect, understated reminder that Pulp are FAMOUS, even now, and this leads to a contemplation of what that means for the band members, most of whom (frontman Jarvis Cocker excepted perhaps) seem to aspire to be as ordinary as possible.  Indeed, an early sequence has drummer, Nick Banks, explaining that Pulp sponsored his daughter's soccer team, so now his daughter gets to be embarrassed that her dad's 'crap band' is all over their tops.  Oh the self-deprecation!   Later on guitarist Mark Webbey recounts a grim time in the 90s when he hated what he was doing passionately, his desire for a regular life thwarted by having to play in a band to thousands of screaming, happy fans.  
Cocker opens the film and later shares his thoughts about fame, performance and aging - all of which are things he is, of course, intimately connected with.  He says he doesn't get a buzz off aging but can live with it.  His young female fans couldn't care less about the fact that he's old enough to be their dad.  One of them waxes lyrical about his on-stage thrusting (of which there is plenty).  The film uses an interview with an academic to address the way Cocker writes about sex, which is to render the embarrassing awkward bits into song. Cocker says he got into a band so girls would make the first move.  Which leads the narrative, inevitably, to the song Hardcore.
For Cocker the Sheffield show is a chance to do their final concert properly.  In the film it's certainly rendered as a good gig - the venue sequences are the most powerful, interesting record of a concert I've ever seen in cinema, with multiple cameras in the thick of the experience, capturing the fans and the band from each other's perspective, up close and personal. The way the band, Cocker in particular, interacts with the audience is stunningly open.  A Canadian reviewer suggested that for Pulp "sing along with the common people" isn't just a lyric - it's a mission statement.'  All of which sets us up to feel the band's 'death' more profoundly.  The final frames before the credits roll are given to the fans standing outside the concert venue, contemplating a return to every day life.  For them, and for the band, the journey is over.  
If at times I wanted more of the band's history I'm willing to forgive the omission.  The film's concept was so humble and such a gentle and interesting mediation on the process of living. This is the last thing you would expect of a band documentary, except that this is a Florian Habicht film.  The collaboration with Pulp was obviously a meeting of minds.

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