When going to see a public west coast premiere of a documentary about legendary Britpop band Pulp, one has to go in expecting a certain level of fandom in the audience, and last night it was palpable. From the fan shirts to the squeals of anticipation, everyone was putting on their figurative rose-tinted glasses. Doors opened at 7:30 for a 9pm screening and by 8:30 almost every single seat in the house was taken, aside from a few at the very top of the balcony of the 1600-seat Theatre At The Ace (formerly United Artists).
The evening started with Jarvis Cocker and filmmaker Florian Habicht taking the stage to introduce the film. Before the show began though, Cocker had to make sure everyone would understand the thick British accents in the film. Everyone giggled as he mustered up as much starch and strength into his normally relaxed South Yorkshire accent trying to stump the audience with phrases. Once cheers and laughs were had, the film ran.
PULP: A Film about Life, Death & Supermarkets juxtaposes clips from Pulp’s last U.K. show in their hometown of Sheffield, interviews with the band and off-the-cuff interviews with the people of Sheffield. The whole film played wonderfully, with hoots and hollers, whispers of lyrics, hearty laughter and beaming joy from the audience. It was a complete nerd-gasm for any Pulp fan, or probably anyone with a thing (good or bad) for the medium-sized city of Sheffield.
Being a Pulp fan myself who wasn’t able to get tickets to any of their U.S. tour dates in 2012, and who was only eight years old the last time the band was in a 100-mile radius of me, this might be the closest I will ever get to seeing the band perform live. The film was a complete joy for me to watch, and I was thoroughly moved. But what if I took off my rose-colored glasses, I kept wondering. Does this film stand on its own for anyone who doesn’t know a lick about Pulp or about Sheffield?
While at first glance this film is very simple—it looks at a band from Sheffield and the people of that city—but it actually tries to do a lot more than that, and maybe it’s trying to do too much. It shows so many stories without really following any single one. It attempts to answer the questions: Is Jarvis Cocker a common person still?; Has Pulp been able to transcend its pop status?; Can a band come back home?; How is Sheffield part of Pulp’s music and how is Pulp part of Sheffield? The film vaguely addresses all of these questions, but there isn’t a single thesis to it. While I worry that the film might objectively be quite average when it comes to music documentaries, especially with the recent releases of amazing and diverse music films like Mistaken For Strangers (about The National) and Crossfire Hurricane (about the Rolling Stones), I have to say that Pulp: A Film about Life, Death & Supermarkets does have some of the greatest cinematography I have ever seen. The choice of shots and framing that comes from Maria Ines Manchego makes you feel the energy of Sheffield and the truth behind each moment.
After the film there was a Q&A with Cocker and Habicht. Although there were some insightful questions from the moderators, the audience questions made the evening. One woman posed the question, “Your album, Different Class, provided the first erotic experience for many teenage girls in the ’90s. Being that your voice is basically the embodiment of sex, how much would a Kickstarter need to hire you to record an erotic novel?” After which the audience erupted into cheers before she continued, “Keep in mind that these girls are now fully grown women who are currently in unfulfilling sexual relationships. NOT MINE! NOT MINE!” After the cheers and laugher died down, Cocker joked about the girl asking him to rewrite Fifty Shades of Grey, before going on a long tangent about whether he would ever write a narrative, never really answering the question. The final question of the night posed if Pulp would be releasing any new “jams” ever, to which Jarvis said that their last tour wasn’t a “stop or a question mark,” but instead a “comma.”
Until Cocker and the rest of the members of Pulp follow up that comma with whatever is next for the band, I will continue to listen to their songs on repeat and most likely watch the documentary again and again in the hopes of recreating the feeling of last night.
Photos by Annie Lesser.