Greetings from the super fun Sheffield Doc/Fest!
After spending a delightful two days in Glasgow, where Tara and I met our friend and longtime DM ally Paul Gallagher in the flesh for the first time (and where we saw the Necropolis, the University of Glasgow and the beautiful West End district, plus ate some insanely good curries), we arrived in Sheffield shortly before the big hometown premiere of New Zealand-born director Florian Habicht’s Pulp: A Film About Life, Death and Supermarkets.
Habicht’s film is as much about the city of Sheffield as it is about the group it spawned. In the few hours before the screening began, I walked about the city center for a while to soak up, you know, the local atmosphere and found myself very charmed by the city and her residents. Young people out and about, laughing and having a good time, families with little children and plenty of old people milling around too (there are lots of older fellows, the type who wear wool caps and call you “guv’nor,” sitting on benches bullshitting all over Sheffield). The Kiwi filmmaker had parachuted into the city in a similar manner—he’d never been here before he started filming—but when he went around looking for local color (and finding it in spades!) he took along a film crew. The results, I thought, were magical, but I’ll get to why in a moment.
When the box office opened, there were probably a good 2,000 people milling around in front of Sheffield City Hall waiting to get in. You could tell that a situation was brewing whereby the whole town basically wanted to be involved. People from all walks of life were queuing up and there was—truly—a “special” feeling in the air. I was excited myself. I’ve been a huge Pulp fan for over twenty years, but sadly I was never in the same city as they were when they played America (which was almost never). When I got back to the hotel to collect my wife, I saw Jarvis Cocker and several of his family members in the lobby getting ready to walk over to the venue (where the band members greeted friends and fans alike on the steps outside City Hall).
Inside the venue, with both balconies packed to the gills, a palpable feeling of excitement was in the air. A huge neon PULP sign topped the screen. When the film started, everyone in that room seemed totally psyched. I know I was.
Pulp: A Film About Life, Death and Supermarkets did not disappoint. It’s not, strictly speaking, a “rockumentary.” It’s close to being one, but it expands on the form so much that the term becomes kind of meaningless to describe it. What it is is an affectionate portrait of a city and of a band that are that city’s favorite sons and daughter. Nominally “about” Pulp’s final hometown show, many of Sheffield’s quirkier denizens get as much screen time as the band. When the film ended, the locals in the movie were asked to stand up and take a bow, and nearly all of them had been sitting in the section we were sitting in. I felt that the film was a triumph—moving, funny, sweet, eccentric—and the reaction from the audience, well, it’s the kind of thing that makes you feel like you are smiling with your heart. Two people who I spoke with were moved to tears. How many rock docs can you say that about?
Well, you can say it about Pulp: A Film About Life, Death and Supermarkets, that’s for sure. There was a mediocre review of the film in The Guardian last week that complained about Habicht’s film that “you can’t help thinking he’s missed the point of Pulp. Their music denigrated the people [of Sheffield] as much as it celebrated them.”
BULLSHIT! Try telling this to anyone in the audience in Sheffield on Saturday night. Introducing “Common People” onstage in the film, Jarvis tells the hometown audience that although the song isn’t about Sheffield and doesn’t take place in Sheffield, it could only have been written by someone who is from Sheffield. I think it was The Guardian that missed the point. Entirely. Would that the reviewer had seen Terry, the newspaper seller who makes a few appearances in the film being treated like he was a celebrity at the afterparty, he might’ve had a different opinion.
PS: After writing this, but before posting it, I ran into director Florian Habicht in the hotel lobby, introduced myself and basically said everything to him in person that I have written above.