Lydia Jenkin

Lydia Jenkin is an entertainment feature writer for the New Zealand Herald.

Pulp non-fiction: Florian Habicht's rock doco (+ video)

Kiwi film-maker Florian Habicht tells Lydia Jenkin about working with Jarvis Cocker and taking Sheffield band Pulp's story to the world.
Jarvis Cocker on stage in the Pulp documentary.
Jarvis Cocker on stage in the Pulp documentary.

The first time Florian Habicht heard a song by Britpop heroes Pulp, he was living in Tole St in Ponsonby, while studying art at university.

"It was the pink house with the pink mailbox, by the park, and there were six of us flatting there, and half of us went to Elam. And my flatmate Jackie Wilson, who's a dancer and choreographer, she was showing me a new dance piece she'd created - a solo. She put on the Pulp song Bar Italia, and her dance was this kind of amazing, sexual dance, but I really loved the music - so much in fact that Jackie eventually gave me the whole Different Class album."

A private dance as an introduction to Pulp sounds an almost perfect bookend to a man who ended up filming the band's last public appearance.

"Absolutely. Lots of my favourite Pulp songs are those dirtier, darker ones, like Pencil Skirt, and I Spy. So it was fitting."

Fast-forward two decades and Habicht's film Love Story was screening at the 2012 London Festival. Thinking about who he'd like to invite, Habicht's thoughts turned to the band's lanky enigmatic frontman, Jarvis Cocker.

No sooner did he start typing an email invitation, than he was struck by the idea that he'd love to collaborate with Cocker and his band.

"I just kind of had the feeling that out of all the bands there are out there, I think Pulp is the sort of band that you can approach. I just had this optimistic feeling about contacting them, and I thought that if we collaborated, maybe we'd come up with something really interesting. Because whenever I'd heard Pulp songs, throughout my life, the songs to me always felt like short films. They have these really strong visuals for me."

So he planted the seed of collaboration in his email to Cocker. Cocker replied.

Habicht didn't know that the band were playing their farewell show in hometown Sheffield. But when the pair met and began discussing ideas for a documentary about the band, they quickly realised their visions were similar.

"What I said to Jarvis was, 'I'd really like to make a film about Pulp that's not just about the band, but the people of Sheffield too', so it wasn't just a rockumentary, where the band are treated like gods. I wanted to create a film where the people of Sheffield were kind of on the same playing field as the band themselves, and they get the same kind of treatment in the film."

Cocker had similar ideas. He wanted it to be about the city they'd come from too. But with only six weeks before the band's last hurrah, he thought they'd run out of time. Habicht convinced him it was possible. "I just said, 'Yeah, nah, Jarvis, we can do it.' Kiwi ingenuity at its finest."

A big part of Habicht's process is what he finds when he starts interviewing people on the street, and finding personalities and stories. So even though they were still looking for funding, and finding crew, and Pulp had to head off to South America for a tour, Habicht set off to Sheffield on his own. "It was like arriving in Hamilton in winter," he laughs. "It was raining and dark and a bit bleak, and I got a bit of a shock."

All he had to guide him was the phone number of Cocker's sister, and a copy of Cocker's book of lyrics, Mother Brother Lover, which had been underlined, with notes scribbled in the margin by Cocker, to point Habicht in the right direction.

"He'd written 'Castle Markets - worth a visit', and that was the first place I went to, and that's where I saw Jerry the newspaper seller in his booth, and met Josephine in the fabric store, and it was amazing. It was a revelation. Like going back in time. "

The people he found and the footage he collected was indeed amazing. From the sequinned choir who do Common People and the young kids with interesting tips for adults to the women with the home-made Pulp underwear and the senior group who sing Help The Aged in a canteen ... there are many brilliant indications of just how deeply Pulp has become part of the fabric of Sheffield.


Florian Habicht, left, found Jarvis Cocker had a similar vision for a rockumentary about Pulp.

"It's interesting because a lot of great bands come from Sheffield - Def Leppard, Human League, Arctic Monkeys - but Pulp is the only band that really sing about Sheffield. People are incredibly proud of them. They're kind of like folk heroes."

Of course, another great part of the film's appeal is the way in which Habicht clearly managed to earn the band's trust and friendship, and get them talking in an easy, intimate way about themselves and the band. He says it wasn't hard though.

"Yes, Jarvis is also a rock star, and he's super-intelligent, but they were all down-to-earth."

It was concert footage that made Habicht nervous. "The concert was the freaky bit, really. The show meant so much to them, and we had one chance to capture it. And none of us on the team had ever filmed a concert before. We had only six weeks to prepare, and we were still trying to raise funding for it - it was totally a rock 'n' roll circus, everything happening at the same time. But it all came off and during the concert it really hit me about halfway through. I was filming an amazing show, from one of my favourite bands, and making a film about it ... it was a dream come true."

Watch the trailer for Pulp: A Film about Life, Death and Supermarkets

Who: Florian Habicht, Kiwi director of Love Story and Kaikohe Demolition, among others.
What: Pulp: A Film About Life, Death & Supermarkets.
Where and when: Screening at the New Zealand International Film Festival July 24-25.

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