Review by Robert Ham
With the unprecedented amount of information available online about our favorite bands and artists, I believe we’re going to start seeing more documentaries like Pulp, films that are less blow-by-blow histories and more impressionistic portraits of these musicians and groups. And, in many cases, that’s going to provide enough information and color and flashes of insight to shade in the edges of the story.
What gets left out of Pulp though is the most interesting parts of the band’s story: the long, slow build of fan base and critical interest that eventually exploded with the release of their chart-topping single “Common People,” then the slow decline and breakup followed by a successful run of reunion tour dates.
Instead, we catch Pulp at the very end of their run, with the last show the band will likely ever play, staged at the arena in their Sheffield hometown. And rather than use the city to tell the band’s story, we get little bits and pieces of their pre-and-post success lives: the last big show they played at home before decamping to London, the frustration everyone felt in the wake of the Different Class juggernaut, and their confusion at the idea of trying to put the band back together after a decade apart.
Habicht, who worked on the concept for Pulp with Jarvis Cocker, give the majority of the film over to the people in and around Sheffield: a gaggle of hardcore fans waiting outside the arena on the day of the gig, a chubby newsagent, two choirs of female vocalists, a dance troupe who perform a synchronized routine to the tune of “Disco 2000,” and even a pair of young kids reacting to the band’s music for the first time. Even though almost all discuss Pulp in some manner, Habicht spends far more time letting them wax philosophic about the subjects in the film’s subtitle.
The film is rich with lovely shots of the city, charming little interviews, and a fair amount of concert footage from the last date. But it still doesn’t feel like enough. Even a longtime fan like myself knows that there’s far more to the history of Pulp than the little pieces we are given here. Pulp doesn’t feel made for people like me or folks looking to get converted to the cause. This was intended for those folks sitting around the Sheffield Motorpoint Arena or the woman in the swimming pool bragging about her homemade Pulp underwear or anyone else who still worships at the band’s altar even now that they have vanished again.