Pulp, Not Fiction: Jarvis Cocker Judges Karaoke at N.Y. Documentary Premiere

Jarvis kick
Jarvis Cocker, left, from the British band Pulp performs on the Park stage at the Glastonbury Festival on June 25, 2011. Cathal McNaughton/Reuters

Think, for a moment, about the kind of person who willingly performs karaoke versions of Pulp songs in front of the man who wrote them. Are they courageous exhibitionists with zero shame? Are they thwarted theater types? Weekend karaoke stars? Diehard fans will to do anything to get within spitting distance of Jarvis Cocker?

The easy answer would be just “common people.” But the lucky few—selected from hundreds of applicants—who performed Pulp karaoke after the New York premiere of the documentary Pulp: A Film About Life, Death and Supermarkets, brought out their weirdest props, writhing dance moves and vocal acrobatics to Industry City’s rooftop in New York's Sunset Park neighborhood in Brooklyn late Thursday night. That includes a woman who tore off a powdered wig and muumuu to perform a seductive striptease during “Help the Aged,” and a lad whose thrusting moves during “Babies” spoke of too many hours of practice in front of a mirror.

Yet the 12-odd hopefuls were brought to their knees by a 9-year-old performer named Graham. The flaxen-haired fellow is probably on the blessedly peaceful side of puberty, but he performed the hypersexual “This Is Hardcore” with the prowess of a semi-sober Axl Rose. He romped and stomped around the stage, even adopting Cocker’s signature “got you” point and jazz hand across the eyelid while crooning: “It seems I saw you in some teenage wet dream.”

After that performance, Cocker seemed equally bemused and bewildered, impressed and depressed. “That was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever witnessed,” he said, attempting to keep a straight face. “It was a little disturbing, but I will not forget that, ever.” Co-judge Florian Habicht, director of Pulp, asked Graham why he selected that song. With sincerity, the precocious little guy answered: “It’s not just one of my favorite songs, but one of my favorite songs of all time.” He’s had nine whole years to think about it, after all.

Cocker and Habicht hosted the afterparty for Pulp, which screened as a part of the Rooftop Films Summer Series on three adjacent rooftops overlooking the lower Manhattan skyline. The film centers on Pulp’s final 2012 show in their hometown of Sheffield, England, didn’t take the usual music documentary route waxing reverentially on the band’s history. Instead, it documented average Sheffield citizens and their relationship to Pulp’s music. Through interviews, the sometimes touching documentary is shot over one day and analyzes the band’s nervousness about performing in their hometown later that night. But the film’s core is about what Pulp songs mean to fans, including a fanatical hobbit-esque newspaper salesman and a displaced young person who found strength through the band’s music.

In Pulp, Habicht ventures to strange locations, like swimming pools and underneath bridges, to get at the heart of life in the town. The results are equally cringe-worthy (the lady swimmer who admitted to making Pulp underwear because she “likes Jarvis on my bum”) and sweet (a choir composed exclusively of older ladies harmonizing Pulp songs). But, as Cocker says in the film, “The most important part of human consciousness is the imaginative function.”

Pulp: A Film About Life, Death and Supermarkets will be distributed in theaters this November through Oscilloscope, with a home release to be determined. 

Join the Discussion