Florian Habicht, director of ‘Pulp: a Film About Life, Death, & Supermarkets’
Documentary Chronicles the Band’s Final Hometown Show
Nov 21, 2014 Web Exclusive
On December 8th, 2012, Britpop icons Pulp played their last gig of a reunion tour that had stretched on for nearly three years. This final show was to be something special for fans in the band’s home town, but would also atone for a disastrous “farewell show” Pulp played there in 1988, before they departed for London and eventual superstardom a few years later. The band went into this Sheffield show planning to put on the best performance of their career—it very well may have been their last.
Pulp: a Film About Life, Death, & Supermarkets was a collaboration between Jarvis Cocker, Pulp, and filmmaker Florian Habicht. The director approached it as a documentary that would be as much about the city of Sheffield and its inhabitants as it is about the famous band that hailed from there. Yes, Pulp are interviewed—but so are a local fish monger, a newspaper salesman, and fans waiting outside the arena. The resulting film captures a city and its people at a very specific time, and actually helps us understand the band far better than a more traditional rockumentary ever could have hoped to.
Florian Habicht spoke to us about the documentary’s origins.
Austin Trunick [Under the Radar]: Jarvis Cocker saw your film, Love Story, at a festival, before you made plans to collaborate. How was that contact made? An e-mail, a phone call?
Florian Habicht: I actually invited Jarvis to Love Story via e-mail, and then I got a call from him when I was in London saying he wanted to meet up.
I imagine, then, you were a Pulp fan before taking on this project?
Yeah. I’d never met them before, but I’d seen them a few times in concert—at Radio City Music Hall in New York, and then in the 1990s in New Zealand. They’re one of my favorite bands. So, when Love Story was screening in London at a festival, I was thinking of who I could invite. I thought, “I’d love Pulp to see this film. I think they’d like it.” [Laughs] That was my thought. I must have thought they were an approachable band.
Did you ever think he’d actually take you up on your invite?
Well, I guess I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t think there was any chance. I guess I was quite inspired by Pippi Longstocking as a kid. Sometimes I can be a bit naïve and do things without thinking about them too much, thinking that it’s going to be possible.
You lived in New Zealand during Pulp’s heyday. Were they big there?
Yes, they were. Australian and New Zealand, yeah. I was in school and my roommate at the time, she gave me a private dance once and it was to the song “Bar Italia.” It was the first time I’d ever heard them, and it was very nice. And then she gave me the whole Different Class album.
The film credits the concept to both you and Jarvis. Can you talk about what the seedling idea was at the very beginning, and how it evolved?
It was [to be] a film as much about Sheffield as it was about the band. It would be about getting into the heads of the people of Sheffield as much as getting into the heads of the band members. We had some cups of tea at a café—that was when I met Jarvis—and we both had the same kind of idea in our heads. We didn’t know each other. I think the only reason we ended up making this film in such a short space of time—they were playing in two months in Sheffield, the last gig of their tour—was because we had that same vision. Jarvis didn’t want to make a conventional rock documentary, and most of my filmmaking isn’t that conventional. I love working on a street level, that’s probably one of my favorite things. So getting dropped into Sheffield with a camera suited me quite fine.
Jarvis had this idea about making a film. They’d be on that comeback tour for [almost] three years and all of the shows sold out straight away, so they didn’t need to do any publicity. They didn’t do any interviews, and they didn’t do any filming because they wanted people to experience the shows, rather than watch them on YouTube. But then he thought it would be nice to have a record, and so he had this idea of a film that followed the lives of people living in [Sheffield] and then—without stalking them too much—follow them to the Pulp concert. That was kind of his concept for the film. And so, he told me about this, and it was quite amazing, because the idea I’d had had the same spirit, and did that same thing … Mine was “a day in Sheffield,” which was the day of the concert. And not treating the bank like rock gods … what I did in the film was treat Pulp the same way I treated the “common people.”
That does set this apart from typical rock documentaries, because it is as much about the city as it is the band. How much time did you spend soaking in Sheffield ahead of the big concert?
Maybe a month before the concert, and another month afterwards just filming some more.
And you said when you met and had your first discussions with Jarvis, the concert was only two months out?
Yeah, and by the time it was all agreed that we were going to do this thing—the whole band, that is—I think it was only six weeks away. It was pretty crazy. We didn’t have a script, and we didn’t have funding.
The show must have felt like giant, ticking clock bearing down on you.
It was nerve-wracking! None of my team had documented a concert before, and this concert meant so much to [Pulp.] And then there was only one chance; it wasn’t like we could go to a few concerts and film them. We only had one shot at it. That put some pressure on things. [Laughs]
Yeah, it’s not like you can go back and re-shoot things. What sort of plan of attack did you roll in with for the show?
Maria Ines Manchego, our director of photography … she kind of orchestrated the whole thing. We had a great team. We had great cinematographers come in from all over the world because it was Pulp and people were really keen. We shot it from an angle where we wanted it to feel like you were at the concert. We didn’t want to have cameras in the band’s faces, real close-up. We wanted to make it feel like you were the audience. It was shot in a very free way, with the cameras exploring. It wasn’t as structured as a television shoot, with a crane going backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards. And the band, they didn’t want to have cameras up near them. They wanted the show to be for the people of Sheffield; they didn’t want to obstruct too much.
But, I’ll tell you: they played such a long show. It was over three hours. We were shooting on cameras that chew a lot of drive space. After two and a half hours, all of our [memory] cards were filled up, because we didn’t expect the show to be so long. The venue didn’t expect the show to be so long, either. [Laughs] They had a big ice skating show the next day.
Cam Ballantyne, from our [concert] team—he had his laptop, and he was in front of the stage. He was getting the cards from all our different camera people and was dumping them off onto his laptop, erasing them, and giving them back. During the concert, with jumping fans on either side! [Laughs] Nothing went wrong, but it was pretty rough.
So much of the film seems was shot on the day of the show, before the concert. What size crew were you commanding that day? How many cameras did you have moving about?
Well, on the day it was me. It was a crazy day. I got up really, really early to go to a girls soccer match. Nick Banks, the drummer of Pulp—it was his team that Pulp sponsored, and he was more nervous about winning or losing that match than he was about the concert.
I didn’t know if I should be filming the concert, which I wanted to, because I love Pulp—or if I should be filming the fans, by the toilets or outside the arena. I really couldn’t make my mind up, so I saw a psychic in Sheffield a few days before the show. [Laughs] The psychic said I should be filming the fans, so I spent half the time interviewing people.
There’s a moment in the film where Jarvis is asked whether he performs more when he’s on stage, or when he’s off. He admits he’s performing for the camera at that moment – but he doesn’t fully answer the question. I’m curious, as you’ve collaborated with and observed him, what you think. How much of his public persona is a performance, versus how much of that is just him?
By my account, how Jarvis is seen in the film is really him. And then, the other members of the band said that to me, too: that’s really Jarvis. I do know as well from spending a lot of time with them now is that the band—they all have private lives, and they like to keep them private. Which I can relate to—I’d like to keep my private life private. So, I think what you see in the film is a big part of Jarvis, but of course there are other sides of him that are not in the film.
This isn’t a film about Jarvis Cocker, I think it’s a film with a portrait of Jarvis Cocker. As a director, I might have tried to [peel away] to the hidden layers, that kind of thing, but the film’s not about that.
We probably learn more about him from seeing Sheffield and its people, than were he just talking about himself in the film.
Yeah, totally. You have to experience Sheffield to [understand] what Pulp is all about.
PULP: a Film About Life, Death, & Supermarkets is now playing in select cities and on demand. To learn more about the film, check out its website.
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