In a recent ‘best songs of the 1990s’ poll, the number one choice was Common People by Pulp, a band formed in the late 1970s who enjoyed success as part of the Britpop scene of the 1990s. The band split in 2001 but decided, a decade later, to do one last tour, culminating in their final gig on 8th December 2012 in front of a packed audience in Sheffield. This was a typical Pulp conclusion to events, bowing out in their home city. The documentary Pulp: A Film About Life, Death & Supermarkets opens where it all ends, showing their final performance as they sing Common People.
‘I don’t know why but [they] had to start it somewhere, so it started there.’
And indeed, despite the footage showing the band’s history and a few nice old crumbling VHS clips of their past performances, this is a film that is as much about Sheffield as it is about the band. It’s about their influence on the city and its influence on them and its other residents; and through numerous interviews we learn about normal life in a northern town.
Pulp: A Film About Life, Death & Supermarkets interviews people from all over Sheffield, those who know the band and those who just know of them, from a newspaper stand seller to old age pensioners. And while you get to see the band play their songs, a number of Pulp’s hits are also performed in a variety of other contexts, from local a cappella choral groups to a youth dance club and a retirement home choir singing Help The Aged. Their role in the community and the way that it links with the members of such a successful outfit shows a far greater connection between the band and the city than might be assumed. Indeed the long term link between Pulp and Sheffield is demonstrated in their sponsorship of Nick Banks’ daughter’s football team, whose kit bears their logo on the front.
Naturally there are plenty of interviews with the band that recall the past but also mention some of the issues that they had to contend with in later years – emotionally, successfully and critically. This makes the film more human and down-to-earth than you would expect a pop-band documentary to be. This is enhanced through the repeated shots of Jarvis trying to change a rusty car wheel (spoiler alert – he manages eventually).
In addition to the film, this release includes a bonus disc which provides additional songs from the concert and extended interviews. If you recalled enjoying Pulp’s music in the nineties and want to enjoy another perspective from the briefly reformed band then this is for you. If you are curious and wish to see a film about somewhere in England that isn’t London this is also for you. Indeed the people of Sheffield get a pre-film starring credit. So Jarvis Cocker’s combination of on-stage decadent esoteric choreography contrasting with the normality of ordinary lives, offers us a film that finds a curious balance between fame and normalcy in an industrial city landscape.
So Pulp Fact or Pulp Fiction? More former than latter. Pulp: A Film About Life, Death & Supermarkets is a very different documentary that balances the ‘last concert’ scenario with, if you will, the ‘common people’ (from all over the globe as fans of the band have travelled across continents to visit Sheffield) for a fun and occasionally moving tribute to the band and the society that shaped it. A Different Class of documentary.