“I did ask Jarvis if I could film him going swimming in some Speedos and doing some laps…he said ‘No way!'” SupaJam interviews ‘Pulp’ director Florian Habicht. Plus film review.

June 6, 2014

This year has seen much trumpeting of the 20 year anniversary of the advent of Britpop. It might therefore seem a rather pertinent time for a film on one of its prime players to arrive in British cinemas. However, be warned; this isn’t some nostalgia-fest recalling Sadie Frost-starring music videos, Brit Award stage-invading protest hoopla or live TFI Friday performances. This is not that film. Nor is it a rise-and-fall tale of an act consigned to the past. This is more of a (valedictory?) homecoming celebration on a beloved band and their relationship with their home city.
There is no real linear narrative to speak of and while there may be some charming interviews with the band members, it seemingly takes a lower priority to a quixotic hodge podge presentation of city-folk anecdotes. There is also a lot of footage of different singing groups and dancing groups enacting songs from the Pulp back catalogue (okay, mainly Common People, but not exclusively so). The level of affection that the band is held in in Sheffield is undeniably high and undeniably real. 
As a work, Pulp: a Film about Life, Death and Supermarkets drips with an infectious ebullience. It is a tone that makes sure that there is never any risk of a Panarama-esque delve into the dark sides of city life. It stays true to its own internal logic by remaining resolutely focused on the marker denoted ‘life-affirming’. 
It is also palpable that this is a labour of love for first-time music documentary maker Florian Habicht. There is a puppy dog enthusiasm that is eminently on display, and whilst it may showcase a British institution finally getting some dues, it is also fair to say that it will play best to the faithfully converted and the citizens of the region. That is not to diminish its charms. It would offer a good double-bill companion piece to the rather excellent Blur film No Distance Left To Run (2009).
All in all though – and on its own merits – it is no less than a joyous celebration of an iconic band plugged into its roots. There is plenty to smile at. Whilst predominately feeling like a love-note to Sheffield, it repeatedly offers ample evidence to support the widely-held view that Pulp really are in a different class.

”’Florian, no surprises, please’. He just didn’t want to be ambushed” – Director Florian Habicht talks Pulp.

Supajam: How did you come to be involved in the project? Who approached who?

Florian Habicht: I love Pulp. I discovered them when I was growing up in New Zealand in art school. To cut a long story short, a couple of years ago, a hybrid doco/feature film that I made in New York got invited to screen at the London Film Festival; it was doing the rounds of the festivals, and I wanted to invite Jarvis to see it, because it is a film about people and the people are the stars of the film and I thought he would be into it. Also, I had this idea to collaborate with him in Pulp. So, I sent an invitation to Jarvis to my film Love Story (2011) and that’s how it began. 
Supajam: Were you surprised that he responded?
Florian: Yeah! I mean, well, I’m kind-of an optimistic, but I’m surprised that the whole film has happened to be honest! 
I mean, 10 years ago, when I saw Pulp play in New York, at Radio City Hall – I had a great night – but I would never in the world thought, ‘in a couple of years, I’ll be talking to you (Pulp)’. I guess that’s how life works, right?
Supajam: What is it about Pulp that appealed? Was there a particular song that reeled you in? 
Florian: It’s the way that they celebrate life that really strikes a chord. The first song that I heard was Bar Italia. My friend played it to me and she could tell that I really liked it, so she gave me the whole album. 
Supajam: Was there a reason as to why she played you that particular song from Different Class?
Florian: She was a dancer, she was my flatmate, and she was showing me a dance that she was choreographing. She just played this track to do the dance to and it was Bar Italia; so, it was, yeah, a special intro!
Supajam: How did you come up with the cafe scene in the film (a collection of elderly denizens of Sheffield sing ‘Help the Aged’ whilst accompanied by an acoustic guitar)? It’s a stand-out moment of the film.
Florian: That’s one of my favourite scenes too. It was shot in Castle market, which no longer exists… well, they’ve moved it. Jarvis gave me his book, Mother, Brother, Lover, which has got all his lyrics that he’s written for Pulp and also his solo stuff. A few weeks before I went to Sheffield, and because Pulp were on tour in South America, I was kind-of on my own, and he just underlined certain phrases from songs, locations and he scribbled down, ‘Castle markets is worth a visit’.
I fell in love with Castle markets from the very beginning. It was like going back in time. Terry and his newspaper booth outside… and in Castle markets a lot elderly people go (went) there to shop and have cups of tea, so when I saw that cafe, which is mostly frequented by elderly people, that was the first inspiration. 

Supajam: How did you go about putting it together? How did you get the people and were they familiar with the song?
Florian: There are people that we met on the streets spontaneously, but there are also different groups from Sheffield and this was a singing group called the Victoria Live at Home Singing Group. I invited them to do a song. They’d never heard Help the Aged, so I sent them a youtube link to the song with the lyrics. They learnt it.
You know how they’ve all got those newspapers? Well, that is because they had to read the lyrics! We only had a couple of hours to shoot, so I just ran down to find some magazines that they could hide the lyrics in. I also think that the magic of them singing the song quite fresh and new and as were recording it, that got captured. 
I had a few tears in my eyes watching that scene on a big screen. It’s amazing to think that when Jarvis wrote that song, he was only 30 or 33 or something.
Supajam: Did you have other music films that inspired you when you put this together? 
Florian: Embarrassingly, the answer to that is ‘no’ because the project came about so fast, so I didn’t really have time. Whilst we were shooting the concert, one night in Sheffield, we downloaded the LCD Soundsystem film (Shut Up and Play the Hits (2012)) and thought we should see that before we made our film. 
Supajam: How involved was Jarvis and the band on the whole process? Did they prevent you from getting access to certain things? 
Florian: I did ask Jarvis if I could film him going swimming before the concert in an old pool in Sheffield! I suggested having him in some Speedos and doing some laps. He was like, ‘No way! You won’t catch me doing that, Florian!’
The band were really involved in the edit and at the beginning, but during the shoot, they left us to it. During the edit they were a great partner-in-crime to have, because they were really into it. They provided really good, helpful notes that were really clear. Also, in the beginning, Jarvis and I jammed a few ideas around. 
Supajam: Did he say there were any topics that he didn’t want to talk about and wouldn’t let you ask?
Florian: Not like that. Once Jarvis, whilst doing the interviews, he was feeling in a bit of a sensitive mood and he just said to me before the interview, ‘Florian, no surprises, please’. He didn’t want to be ambushed, but he was totally okay about me asking anything that I wanted. I said to him once, ‘is there anything that you haven’t ever told anyone?’ He said, ‘that’s up to you – you’re the filmmaker!’
This film though isn’t about their personal lives and right from the beginning neither of us wanted to make a film like that. We wanted to make a film about the people of Sheffield and how it relates to Pulp and about their last concert. It wasn’t as though I was going to ask Jarvis about Michael Jackson and his true feelings. We were on the same page the whole way through. 
Supajam: There isn’t a lot of rehearsal footage. Did you toy with the idea of having rehearsal footage in there in the lead-up to the gig?
Florian: Well, on that note, actually, the band didn’t want the rehearsals filmed. There is a little bit of rehearsal footage in the film but the band wanted to be in peace when they did that. They were so nervous already that I don’t think that they wanted anymore (pressure)!
Supajam: Do you think there will be any new music from Pulp? 
Florian: They are all very creative and they’re all producing things, but as a question of whether they’ll do something together as Pulp? I really don’t know. I hope so. Jarvis just did an interview with the Observer where he said that he’s taking a year off from his radio show to see if he has any more songs left in him. 
Supajam: Do you think there is a uniquely special bond between Pulp and their hometown?
Florian: The one thing about Pulp is that they sing about Sheffield. It’s a big part of their lyrics, whereas other amazing bands from Sheffield don’t. For example, Def Leppard could be from anywhere. They could be an American band. Pulp are real Sheffielders, even though people like Jarvis doesn’t go to Sheffield that much anymore. I imagine he doesn’t walk around during the day too much on the streets, because people often go crazy (laughs). 
They (the people of Sheffield) talk about them (Pulp) all the time, as if they are family members or friends. And Richard Hawley too. 
For more info, visit www.pulpthefilm.com. The film premieres at Sheffield Doc Fest on 7th June 2014. 

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