Berlin-based Kiwi filmmaker Florian Habicht isn’t even a fan of music docos or concert films. He’s not well-versed in them at any rate, whereas you might assume going in to his latest movie, Pulp: A Film About Life, Death & Supermarkets that he was a fan of the genre. Well, he didn’t grow up with them – as might be the case with a lot of the audience that attends his latest film.
“We watched a few, quite quickly actually – in the lead up to making this, there was a list of recommended titles, but I think not knowing all that much about concert films and music documentaries was very freeing, it allowed me to make the sort of film I wanted to make”.
Habicht’s film is wonderful. It soars. It tells you all you might ever need to know about the band Pulp whether you’re a fan or not, it could in fact make you a fan of the band – it is a film worth seeing even if you care not a jot for Jarvis Cocker, his music and his world. You will care after you see this film. Habicht has a way of capturing a version of real life, so crucial to documentary – he has a way of capturing communities, representing them without a sneer, without judgment – revelling in the idea that passionate people have a chance for their voice to be heard. Florian Habicht is a passionate person. His voice is there inside his films – sometimes it’s overt, he’s even been the star of his films sometimes. But more often he’s the conjurer, the one gathering, choosing, placing – spacing – stitching together the threads of the film, making the garment the audience gets to wear.
Habicht supported himself through film school and early film experiments with a job that he credits as informing a great deal of his documentary style. He was a wedding photographer.
“There’s something in that – it’s served me well. I could never have known that at the time, but I guess it’s about trying to make people feel comfortable. You’re dealing with a large group of strangers, they all know each other, but you don’t know them – and it’s an important day for them. You have to get a performance out of them, you also want to capture them naturally, as naturally as you can. You need to be comfortable, and have them be comfortable. The job was just that – a job. Some money. But I was developing a whole lot of skills without even really knowing it at the time I guess. It’s good for forcing you into talking to people, getting them talking, making them happy. I’ve thought back to that a lot in recent years, the more films I make, the more I realise how helpful all of this was”.
Habicht’s Pulp film is as much as story about where the band’s music comes from geographically as it is about the musicality of the band. It is in fact about the musicality of the city of Sheffield, highs and lows; the influence the band has taken from the city – and given back. We meet a choir of seniors singing Common People. And old lady in a wheelchair tells us that they were so much better than Blur, better lyrics. She’s right. Everyone in the film is right. There’s a lot of honesty – and a huge amount of heart in this film. We also – of course – get to meet the band. We even get up close. And, yes, personal.
It breathes new life into the tired old concert film; it’s a new version of the concert film, a rebirth.
“My style, really, is to just keep the camera rolling. That isn’t really anything unique or special but it’s worked for me, again it’s back to that wedding photography training, you just have to be ready to capture something – if you try to get it a second time you won’t get it. You have to be ready to find the moment as it is happening. You can then shape your footage, you edit, you cut, you make it – but you have to have the stuff first”.
Even the way Habicht got to make this film was unconventional – another version of just keeping it rolling, of aiming for the spontaneity of the moment with careful planning. A Pulp fan, he invited Jarvis Cocker to a screening of his previous film, Love Story. He then put on a private screening for the band – all part of wooing them into working with him. The timeline was suddenly tight as he agreed to film the band’s final show of their farewell tour, just a few weeks to prepare.
“Jarvis and I struck up a bit of a bond over film ideas, he is a filmmaker – has his own project on the go at the moment. So he had ideas. We spent some time chatting and the film I made fell into place from there. Once we had the concept and some set-ups Jarvis wasn’t all that involved until the editing process. He was very involved in that – offering ideas and helping to create the story and flow, but it was a great working relationship. Prior to that he had put me in touch with a couple of people – his sister. A couple of friends too. And he’d given me a copy of his book of lyrics – Mother, Brother, Lover and he’d underlined a few passages, some places and lines. That was essentially my guide to Sheffield. That was all I knew going in – in fact I had a completely different idea of what the city was, so I was discovering it for the first time when I got there to find some Pulp fans, to meet some of the band and get some first shots”.
He says the editing was also all about “striking a balance” between being a Pulp fan and a filmmaker, his relationship with a favourite band now irrevocably changed. Several pinch-yourself moments arriving during the course of shooting and creating the film, in fact Habicht says they’re still happening.
“I’ll get an email from Jarvis about something to do with the film now – a talk or planning the DVD release, or whatever, and while it’s business this is a friend, this is someone I now have a relationship with, so that’s very weird, and humbling and it’s been wonderful really, no complaints at all but it is a bit strange. You do find yourself standing back to go ‘wow’ sometimes”.
Habicht has previously caught communities in New Zealand on tape – before turning the camera on himself for 2011’s Love Story there was Land of the Long White Cloud in 2990, a small handful of experimental documentaries and staged performance pieces including Rubbings From A Live Man, Woodenhead and Liebestraume. And his first “straight” documentary to really capture a community was Kaikohe Demolition. As much as Habicht might never have planned to make a concert film there’s something perfect about the way his Pulp film straddles the ideas and concepts of his Kaikohe film and the other stories he’s told around performances and music – his Story about Life, Death & Supermarkets is the culmination of his skills subverting documentary, finding the humans within the human experience.
He’s moving away from documentary for his next film – “an actual fictional, narrative film” he says with pride. But he’s not closing the lid entirely on documentary. Just as his camera is always rolling when he’s on set it seems he’s always working – up all night to take calls for interviews currently, travelling back to New Zealand for film festival screenings and from there around the world on the circuit, Habicht has already started work on his new film project. That’s being shoehorned in and around promoting his Pulp doco.
Pulp: A Film About Life, Death & Supermarkets is a must-see movie experience. Florian Habicht will be in New Zealand to introduce screenings of the movie in Auckland and Wellington see here for Auckland’s Film Festival screenings and here for Wellington. And finally here is the film’s trailer.