SXSW Film Review: 'Pulp'

No William Shatner here, mind you

Britpop's smartest – and occasionally smarmiest – band was Sheffield's Pulp. (Blur comes in a close second.)

Frontman Jarvis Cocker, pencil-thin and prone to oversized glasses, flares, and a seriously Bowie-esque sense of stage dramatics, was for much of the Nineties a common cover story for music rags like NME, Q, and Melody Maker. The band's 1995 album Different Class spawned four top 10 singles, among them the working class heroes' anthem "Common People," which was later to be covered by William Shatner and Ben Folds. Their 1998 album This is Hardcore took Cocker's wry lyrics into darker territory, with the ominous and perverse title track seeming to bode the death knell of Britpop, which in hindsight was more or less the case. The follow-up, 2001's We Love Life barely charted in the UK, much less on this side of the pond, and the band disintegrated soon after.

Director Florian Habicht's documentary serves less as an appraisal of the band's history than as a smartly crafted eulogy. Playing out as the band prepares for its final farewell show in their hometown of Sheffield, Pulp reveals a cautiously optimistic regrouping, with Cocker mulling on mortality and keyboardist Candida Doyle worrying that her arthritis might keep her sidelined for the band's reunion. Habicht intercuts scenes of Pulp members rhapsodizing the past with sly footage of various fans and choral groups doing their own versions of the band's greatest hits. One, in which a group of old-age pensioners quietly cover the single "Help the Aged," is nothing short of brilliant. Habicht's film may not be everyone's cup of tea, but then neither was Pulp, a fact with which Cocker, who famously stormed onstage while Michael Jackson performed at the 1996 Mercury Awards, would certainly agree. Still, this is a crafty, revealing documentary about a band that remains one of the highlights of the 1990s Britpop wars.


Pulp


24 Beats Per Second, World Premiere
Wednesday, March 12, 7pm, Stateside

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

South by Southwest, SXSW, SXSW Film 2014, SXSW 2014, Pulp, Florian Habicht, Jarvis Cocker, Candida Doyle, Sheffield, Britpop

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