A Concert Film Without Much Concert Film, 'Pulp' Sketches A Hometown The documentary Pulp: A Film About Life, Death And Supermarkets is not much about any of those things, but it does try to take a closer look at the band's singer-songwriter and the town he left.


Movie Reviews

A Concert Film Without Much Concert Film, 'Pulp' Sketches A Hometown

Pulp bandmates Jarvis Cocker, Nick Banks, Candida Doyle, Steve Mackey, and Mark Webber. Oscilloscope hide caption

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Pulp bandmates Jarvis Cocker, Nick Banks, Candida Doyle, Steve Mackey, and Mark Webber.


Pulp: A Film About Life, Death and Supermarkets is a concert documentary that includes little concert footage. But that doesn't mean it spends much time on the themes mentioned in its subtitle. Mostly, the movie is about singer-songwriter Jarvis Cocker and his hometown, Sheffield, which he acknowledges has "never been a beautiful place."

Better known in Britain than the U.S., Pulp toiled for more than 15 years before its breakthrough album, 1995's Different Class. Its biggest song, "Common People," chronicled lust that crossed the British class divide. But it was relevant enough on the other of the Atlantic to rate a William Shatner cover version.

"Common People" arrives almost immediately, as if to demonstrate that the movie will forgo the structure of most rock concerts, which reserve the crowd-pleasers for last. Introducing the song early is also useful for viewers who don't know it, since they'll hear this line: "I took her to a supermarket."

In fact, the teenage Cocker worked not in a supermarket but for a fishmonger in an old-fashioned food hall. Director Florian Habicht, a German-born New Zealander, prowls Castle Market, interviewing people who remember Cocker or at least know that he was once employed there. Habicht even finds the occasional Sheffielder who's never heard of the singer.

There don't seem to be many of those, though. The movie was filmed as the band was completing its 2011-12 reunion tour with a hometown show, so Pulpmania was at its peak in Sheffield. Fans had arrived from Germany and Georgia (the one that borders Alabama), and gray-haired elders on the street happily offered their insight and enthusiasm.

Not that Sheffield could forget Pulp, even a decade after the band's final album of new material, 2001's We Love Life. The group's logo appears on the jerseys worn by the girls soccer team whose players include drummer Nick Banks' daughter.

Both the young and the old of "Sheffield: Sex City" — as one Pulp tune dubbed it — react to the band's legacy in staged sequences. A teen dance troupe grooves to the ironic "Disco 2000," and a choir of older people harmonizes on the snarky yet empathetic "Help the Aged."

The musicians don't really talk about death, but they do discuss getting older. Cocker, pushing 50 when the movie was shot, explains his need to "tidy up" the band's career before it was too late. Poignantly, keyboardist Candida Doyle recalls her seldom-discussed rheumatoid arthritis — diagnosed when she was 16.

The musical excerpts show a band (supplemented by a few ringers) that's fully assimilated its influences, from cabaret to grunge. There's a lot of David Bowie in its style, but "This Is Hardcore" reflects Brit-popsters' late-'90s attempt to move as close to Seattle as their burgundy-jacketed passports would allow.

In addition to not being a concert movie, Pulp is not a definitive account of the group's career. The abbreviated history may mystify people who don't already know the basics. But the film does offer a vivid portrait of Cocker — wit, unlikely casanova and quite possibly hypochondriac — and an intriguing if glancing one of Doyle.

What's less persuasive is the depiction of Sheffield. Habicht prompts his interviewees too often, and relies too much on contrived situations. He probably would have gotten more revealing hometown footage if he'd taken a less intrusive approach, and spent more time simply observing.

But maybe the director couldn't bear to spend very much time in the town Pulp abandoned for London and semi-stardom. After all, Sheffield Sex City bard Jarvis Cocker has long lived in Paris.