This is Hardcore
Interview with Florian Habicht on
Pulp: A Film About Life, Death & Supermarkets
Interview and Portrait by Barney McDonald
“I COULDN’T BELIEVE HOW ELECTRIC THE MUSIC AND ATMOSPHERE WAS.
IT WAS ONE OF THE BEST CONCERTS I’VE EVER BEEN TO.
AND HERE WE WERE MAKING THIS FILM! IT WAS THE MOMENT
—FLORIAN HABICHTIT HIT ME THAT I WAS MAKING A FILM ABOUT PULP.” — FLORIAN HABICHT
Florian Habicht is a New Zealand-based filmmaker known for the cult film “Woodenhead,” “Kaikohe Demolition,” critically acclaimed “Love Story,” and now “Pulp: a Film about Life, Death & Supermarkets.” Born in Berlin, Habicht moved with his family (his father is 60’s photographer Frank Habicht) to New Zealand in the early 80’s, where he studied at the Elam School of Fine Arts in Auckland. He later studied at Binger Filmlab in Amsterdam. Habicht has two feature scripts in development, and is currently touring festivals.
Bernard McDonald is a New Zealand-based film and pop culture writer, and formerly founder and editor “Pavement” magazine, a youth culture magazine that ran from 1993-2006. Focusing on contemporary culture from New Zealand and abroad, “Pavement” featured rising stars in music, art, film, fashion, and design, and consistently pushed cultural & creative boundaries.
One of the most popular and important British bands of the ‘90’s, Pulp was founded in Sheffield, England by Jarvis Cocker in 1978 and lingered in obscurity, undergoing line-up and style changes for almost 13 years. After 1995’s “Common People” became #2 on the British charts, Pulp became national superstars. With “Different Class” in 1996, Pulp was catapulted to international fame and continued to play and record until 2002, when they “sort of split up”. Pulp’s origins and 2011 reunion are chronicled in Florian Habicht’s 2012 documentary about the band.
Pulp: A Film about Life, Death & Supermarkets
Directed by Florian Habicht, “Pulp: a Film about Life, Death & Supermarkets” is a 2012 feature documentary about the band PULP, its frontman Jarvis Cocker, and the group’s birth city of Sheffield, England. The film contains exclusive footage of the band’s live show, testimonials by family and friends, and band members’ thoughts on fame, love, mortality, and car maintenance. Habicht specifically focuses on environment: how the residents and city of Sheffield itself shaped Pulp. The film premiered at SXSW in Austin, Texas.
A 2010 critically acclaimed film by Florian Habricht, which began with the opening sequence of a fictional love story, then sourced the rest of its plot from New Yorkers on the street: asking for love advice as well as what should happen next in the story. A beautiful woman (played by Masha Yakovenko) on the Coney Island train is both lead actress and object of desire to the leading man, played by Habricht, and the rest is dictated by passerby.
Lead vocalist and face of the band Pulp, which he founded in 1978 at the age of 15 in his hometown of Sheffield, England. The band was continuously in flux until the early 1990’s, when Cocker became a hit on British TV – suave and funny, a kind of national hero and sex symbol. After Pulp’s 1995 album “Common People” and 1996’s “Different Class,” Pulp and Cocker became international hits. In 2006, during the band’s hiatus, Cocker released a solo album entitled “Jarvis,” and in 2010, he started his radio show “Jarvis Cocker’s Sunday Service” on BBC.
Hardcase New Zealand director Florian Habicht leaves his trademark lo-fi approach to filmmaking in the dust with his polished and undeniably poignant portrait of one of the great British bands of the past three decades – Pulp.
Admittedly, that’s a lot of P’s in one sentence, but let’s add a few more, just for the sheer thrill of it: perfect, popular, perky, and pop band. With that out of our system, we can focus on the film at hand, “Pulp: A Film About Life, Death & Supermarkets.” Made after dynamic frontman Jarvis Cocker met Habicht in London after a screening of the kiwi’s previous film, “Love Story,” the documentary tells the story of Pulp’s last ever show, staged in hometown Sheffield in 2012. But it’s also as much a love story about the town the band grew up in and the people still populating its markets, streets, newsagents, and houses.
Cocker didn’t attend Habicht’s London debut, though the filmmaker kindly arranged a private screening for the singer after sharing cups of tea and a common interest in, well, the common man. Although Pulp’s zeitgeist single, 1996’s “Common People,” was a parody of the idea of its title and the desire of the affluent to appear ordinary or humble, both Cocker and Habicht have the canny knack of being able to understand and love people in all their forms: rich, poor, black, white, tall, short, living or dead. The duo then conceived the format for the film, with a miniscule six-week window for Habicht, usually accustomed to filming on a shoestring and mostly in his adopted country, to establish a crew and a strategy for shooting Pulp’s farewell show.
Undaunted, Habicht rose to the challenge, managing to also capture a series of wonderful interviews with Sheffield locals, groupies, band members and Cocker’s mother. Add a choreographed dance routine by a group of young girls and a couple of sung performances by oldies in a choir and a cafeteria (the latter’s rendition of “Help the Aged” is rather special, if a little too staged), and you have a charming, unique take on one of modern pop’s most cerebral and beloved groups.
Now Habicht is on the film festival circuit, promoting his film and wrapping his lanky arms around the audience at each screening, including a special premiere in hometown Auckland. Featuring a Q&A with Cocker via Skype after the end credits, the 50-year-old seemed well chuffed with the Berlin-born director’s film. There was certainly a lot of love in the air under the Civic theatre’s star-speckled ceiling. Never dull, always heart-warming, here are a few things Habicht had to say a couple of week’s before he got to show his film to family, friends, and fans.
Barney McDonald: How did you wind up making a Pulp doco?
Florian Habicht: I wasn’t planning on making another doco after “Love Story.” I really wanted to write a fictional story and had been dreaming up a musical-of-sorts set in New Zealand and Japan. I was touring film festivals with “Love Story” in 2012 and was in NYC for its premiere on a Lower East Side rooftop. That night, I got home in the early hours and drifted off to sleep. When I woke up, there was an invitation from the London Film Festival in my inbox! I was so happy that I shed a tear, and soon thought to myself: “Whom could I invite?” Jarvis Cocker was on my list of people. Eventually I sent an email to Jarvis’s agent, inviting Jarvis to see “Love Story” at the festival, and planted a seed about the possibility of collaborating on a film project.
I never heard back, but when I was in London I got a phone call from Jarvis. He wasn’t able to make it to the festival screening because he was interviewing Paul Simon for his weekly radio show, “Jarvis Cocker’s Sunday Service,” so instead we met for a cup of tea in the café of Soho’s Curzon cinema. Our ideas really gelled and afterwards I thought he should see “Love Story” properly, so I hired a cinema and put on a private morning screening. I even bought some red velvet cake that features in “Love Story” and served it for breakfast.
Mother Brother Lover
Jarvis Cocker of Pulp prints a selection of sixty-six lyrics, including commentary and an introduction, taking the reader on a thirty-year tour of his life, art, and inspiration.
BM: Was Jarvis just as involved as you in the conception and planning of the doco?
FH: We conceived the ideas together. Jarvis didn’t have to do any of the planning! The band went on tour in South America when I arrived in Sheffield. Jarvis gave me his sister Saskia’s phone number and had underlined places and scribbled comments in his book, “Mother Brother Lover,” a collection of his lyrics. That was my guide for discovering Pulp’s Sheffield. Saskia showed me things like the balcony he once fell out of while trying to impress a girl. (He ended up playing early Pulp shows in a wheelchair after that.) And a bus shelter Jarvis was fond of. In the book, Jarvis had underlined ‘Castle Market’ and scribbled ‘worth a visit’ next to it. That’s where I discovered Terry, the newsagent in the film.
“I wanted to give the people of Sheffield the same respect and treatment as the band members and eliminate that Rock God separation between band and audience.”
— Florian Habicht
BM: Whose idea was it to make the film as much about Sheffield as the band?
FH: We both had that same idea in our heads before we met! I wanted to give the people of Sheffield the same respect and treatment as the band members and eliminate that Rock God separation between band and audience. Jarvis found most rockumentaries boring and that’s why Pulp hadn’t made one before. We didn’t want to make a film that told Pulp’s full story or delved into album sales or the Michael Jackson incident. My reasoning for that was that people go on YouTube or Wikipedia if they want that kind of information. We wanted to create something special that hadn’t been done before. We also wanted to make a film that would speak to non-Pulp fans. “People are gonna get bored if there’s too much of us,” Jarvis said.
BM: Besides Jarvis, which individual in the film stands out most for you?
FH: I mentioned Terry the newsagent, the young girl Liberty at the beginning of our trailer and Bomar, the beautiful musician who escaped the Loony Bin one weekend so he could listen to “Jarvis Cocker’s Sunday Service!” I like it when Bomar describes one of the main chords in Pulp’s song, “Babies,” as being “almost happy.”
BM: What were your impressions of Pulp before all of this?
FH: They seemed like a friendly and approachable band and different to the other Brit Pop bands. I remember their “Different Class” album artwork saying, “We don’t want to cause no trouble, we just want the right to be different.” I liked that. Jarvis’ lyrics paint stories and are very visual to me. Like Jarvis taking the wealthy Greek student who wants to live like common people to a supermarket, because he had to start it somewhere.
Or the life of a bed, and all the things it witnesses, in “Live Bed Show” : “This bed has seen it all, from the first time to the last. The silences of now, and the good times of the past.”
Or “Underwear”: “If fashion is your trade, then when you’re naked, I guess you must be unemployed.”
Or “Dishes”: “I am not Jesus, though I have the same initials. I am the man who stays home and does the dishes. And how was your day? Is that woman still trying to do your head in? I’d like to make this water wine, but it’s impossible. I’ve got to get these dishes dry.”
I’ve never had the opportunity to do Pulp on karaoke as all the Korean places I’ve been to in Auckland don’t have it on their system. I’d like to talk to Universal Music and see what’s up with that.
“Jarvis’ lyrics paint stories and are very visual to me. Like Jarvis taking the wealthy Greek student who wants to live like
common people to a supermarket, because he had to start it somewhere.”
— Florian Habicht
The Big Melt
A documentary film about the Sheffield, England steel industry, created by Jarvis Cocker and filmmaker Martin Wallace, which features archive footage of the city combined with a live soundtrack.
Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Candida Mary Doyle is a keyboard player and occasional backing vocalist for the band Pulp. She joined her brother Magnus Doyle in the Pulp lineup in 1985, and has played on and off with the band since. Doyle currently resides in London.
BM: What do you think of Jarvis?
FH: I used to think he was super tall, but I’m actually a head taller. I really respect him. He was good to work with. He makes decisions intuitively, spur of the moment, which is how I like to work too. So no other directors were interviewed for the job. Pulp had a good gut feeling with me and went with it. Jarvis has an infectious, likeable personality, so it’s always fun. And he’s a professional who doesn’t waste a second of time. He’s incredibly prolific. He made his own film, “The Big Melt,” while we were making our film, plus doing his weekly radio show. When he does something, he put’s everything into it. Like when I made him change a car tyre for the film! I really like the other band members too. And Candida is so lovely!
BM: Is he a formidable interview subject?
FH: Jarvis has been interviewed hundreds of times and he’s extremely good at it. He’s also answered some of the same questions over and over again. This is probably what intimidated me a bit, as I wanted to capture the real Jarvis, and in a way that hadn’t been done before. So for my first interview with Jarvis, my approach was to do it entirely by myself. I asked Jarvis to help me set up the tripod and he knew more about setting up the sound recording gear than I did. I didn’t have any questions written down and that approach felt welcome. Oh yeah, that morning, my team loaded up a taxi with the gear and sent me on my way to Jarvis’ house. We drove for a few minutes and I asked the taxi driver if he knew where to go. He was having an intense argument on the phone and told me not to interrupt him. Shit! I then rang Alex the producer and asked him if he’d given the driver Jarvis’ address. Alex said no, you need to give it to him. The driver continued his heated conversation and reminded me not to interrupt him. So here I was, not sure where I was heading with all the camera gear, hopefully on my way to interview Jarvis for the first time, trying to be calm.
BM: Did you end up in Portugal, as jokingly suggested in the film?
FH: I could have. Eventually the driver got off the phone and we’d been driving in the right direction! We got to the house, Jarvis helped me unload the gear, and we went out to get some takeaway flat whites. I couldn’t believe how many people approached him in the next ten minutes, complimenting him on Pulp’s music. One girl told him that she saw Pulp in South America. “Were we alright?” he replied. I asked Jarvis if he’d rigged all these people, and he said, “I wish but I’m not that organised.”
BM: Who were the three dynamic kids you asked to be in the film?
FH: Liberty, Rio and Lola. We were actually filming someone else, a husband and wife doing up their Soft Serve Ice Cream van for the summer. These three kids walked past and Liberty asked what we were up to. I swung the camera around and followed the kids to their house. I felt terrible towards the Ice Cream couple, but the second I exchanged a few words and smiles with Liberty, I knew I had to follow my nose. My filmmaking nose!
“I wrote a message to the band on a serviette and gave it to one of the roadies to pass on. It read: ‘Dear Pulp,if you want a tour of Auckland’s west coast, my girlfriend has a car and wants to take you. Love, Florian.”
— Florian Habicht
Marina Ines Manchego
A New York based cinematographer and filmmaker, Manchego has shot two feature films for director Florian Habicht, “Pulp” and “Love Story.” For the latter, she was nominated as Best Feature Film Cinematographer at the New Zealand Film and TV Awards. Additionally, Manchego shoots various music videos and shorts, and shows her photography in NYC.
BM: Did you get to enjoy Pulp’s farewell concert in Sheffield, or were you simply too busy directing the film crew?
FH: My DOP, Maria Ines Manchego, a Kiwi living in NYC, orchestrated our concert camera team and once the concert started they all did their thing. I was inside the men’s toilets and outside the ladies’, interviewing people about the meaning of life while Pulp belted out their hits. For the second half of the show I went up to the stage and couldn’t believe how electric the music and atmosphere was. It was one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to. And here we were making this film! It was the moment it hit me that I was making a film about Pulp.
BM: Did you see Pulp play in New Zealand back in their heyday?
FH: I did. Were you there too? I must have been nineteen-years-old and studying film and video at Elam. I totally forgot, but my friend Sam Trubride, who joined me at the concert, reminded me recently that I wrote a message to the band on a serviette and gave it to one of the roadies to pass on. It read: “Dear Pulp, if you want a tour of Auckland’s west coast, my girlfriend has a car and wants to take you. Love, Florian.”