David Stratton assesses The Immigrant
WE’RE a little spoiled for music documentaries at the moment.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences doesn’t always get it right but it has sniffed some kind of zeitgeist in its two most recent selections for Academy Awards. The rousing Motown backing singer documentary
20 Feet From Stardom was the category award winner this year, a year after Malik Bendjelloul’s discovery of a lost talent,
Searching for Sugar Man, won the gold-plated statue.
These days 20,000 Days on Earth, an original take on Australian star Nick Cave, is winning fans and we don’t need to go too far back to pluck another handful of rippers from the music documentary shelves, including Dave Grohl’s Sound City; Mistaken for
Strangers, Tom Berninger’s delightful look at his brother’s band, the National; or Alex Gibney’s Finding Fela!
Now we can throw Pulp: A Film About Life,
Death & Supermarkets into the mix too. This week’s release (M, eOne, 149min, $24.99) is a charmer. Florian Habicht’s chronicle of the British band’s re-formation for a farewell concert in Sheffield is a loving look at a decidedly dowdy, middle-aged band headed by a true pop star, Jarvis Cocker,
The film is not a tell-all or likely to rock the establishment. Rather it pieces together a scatty portrait of a band content enough to look back with a little wisdom and humour as it prepares to play one last, belated gig in its home town, Steel City.
Incredibly, Cocker, who continues to play the pop star as a BBC DJ and dapper manabout-the-UK, is overshadowed by the inhabitants of Sheffield in this film.
From the grinning newsstand proprietor to female fans who still thrill at Cocker’s gyrating, skinny hips and jiggling elbows, the old and young of Sheffield have a connection with the band. Some of them, including local dancers and singers, are even preparing to participate in Pulp’s final show, which Cocker describes as an act of “tidying up”.
Their observations are as witty and profound as anything Cocker delivers. One old darl professes to prefer Pulp to Blur because “they’ve got better words”.
Pulp’s connection to a town Cocker regularly referred to in his lyrics is reciprocated with pride and affection.
In finding terrific subjects on the street Habischt eschews assessing Pulp’s place in Britpop. The mid-to-late-1990s wave was all about Blur and Oasis, but Pulp was as significant. Its 1994 album His ‘n’ Hers arrived with Blur’s Parklife, signalling an era of guitars, socially insightful lyrics and excess. As Blur and Oasis hammered it out in the charts in 1995, Pulp stole the show at Glastonbury as a last-minute replacement for the Stone Roses.
This doco puts Pulp in its place: Sheffield. Delightfully so.