Pulp on Film #1 – Babies

It starts with the sort of arch, knowing and self-deprecating simplicity that infuses every corner of the Pulp universe.  A black title card with white text, all in lower case and stating the bleedin’ obvious…pulpbabies1

A second title card reveals the name of the song and the guilty party…

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In very many ways Pulp were the art school/art house art hounds of the Britpop scene.  It was clear that they were steeped in the furthest and strangest corners of the pop world but it was equally clear that they were intelligent, thoughtful and considered performers.  The idea that they would simply “shoot” a video for a single as opposed to creating a short film to accompany the song is ridiculous.

The first time we encounter the band it is out of focus and Jarvis has his back to us…the message is clear; this is a song that requires you to think clearly, cleverly and carefully in order to fully appreciate it and, as importantly, Jarvis is revealing his disdain for the whole notion of “pop promo’s” by turning his back on the camera.

We are not in Kansas any more kids.

This is pop by Pulp.

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As the band remain out of focus title cards take us into the world of film by telling us…

 

Only at this point do we see the band in focus for the first time and Jarvis turns to face us with his hands in his pockets and shades shielding him from the harsh glare of the camera’s eye…every inch the archetypal pop star, while resolutely not being a pop star in any contemporary sense.

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It is worth thinking about the mise en scene in this section of the film.  The set itself is completely bare, only the band themselves and their instruments are present.  No speakers, no crowd, no dressing of any kind.  Despite that there are things to see and to read.  The clothing of each of the band members connote very clear messages;  the purity of the white suit, the dark heart of the black suit, the hope offered by the rainbow top, the danger and lust that lie at the heart of the work of Pulp present in the red shirt and the none more seventies browns of the trousers place us firmly in the Pulpiverse.

The next title card suggests that there may be more to this film than the standard band performance that is so common in the world of pop…

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The setting is revealed to be, at first glance, defiantly working class as evidenced by the use of a block of flats;

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Then a suggestion that we may be in the North with the use of wonky, brick, chimney pots, a reference to the Sheffield streets that Jarvis would walk as a younger man?  Note too how the chimney stacks are crooked…something is askew, a canted angle without the need to cant the camera?  Is this the world of Pulp in chimney form?

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And then there is a suggestion that beauty can be found even in the most unlikely of locations…

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These flowers are eerily reminiscent of the opening moments of the David Lynch masterpiece, “Blue Velvet”.

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“Blue Velvet”, David Lynch

More is revealed about where, and now when, we are in the shots that follow with appearances of Space Hoppers and the Home Pride flour man Fred as well as an interestingly named home and an enigmatic cable…

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Does this cable suggest a trap?  Are we all prisoners of our past?  Or is it meant to suggest escape?  If we grab it and clamber over the wall will we be free of the confines of our home towns?

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A vibrant image of a 1970’s childhood in the U.K.  The space hopper connotes joy and the ability to live life free from concerns and worry.  Does it too hint at a means of escape?

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A tower block named after French enlightenment philosopher Francois-Marie Arouet seems peculiar and unlikely.  Voltaire was renowned, among so many other things, for his wit…is this a nod then to the wit and the dark humour at the core of so many of Pulp’s songs?

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“Fred” the Home Pride flour man was a regular character in television ads for the product in the 1970’s and 1980’s, including in this one voiced by John Le Mesurier;

At this point we here Jarvis sing for the first time and only now does he remove his sunglasses and look directly at the camera.  Sunglasses are often used in film to give the impression of dishonesty or of a character attempting to hide something.  They, along with the absence of eyes/sight are also a recurring motif in the Hitchcock universe for exactly those reasons.  When Jarvis removes them is he telling us that he is now being honest with us?

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Still from “Psycho”

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A new title card tells us…

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But what is the theme?

As ever with Pulp multiple themes are present; the past, innocence, corruption, childhood, adolescence, sex, sexuality, love, romance…

Now we leave the bare set where the band are performing and enter the bedroom of a teenage girl.  The girl is present and she is sharing the space with her sister;

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The red curtains could suggest danger or they might hint at lust, desire or romance.  The girl who is standing has a badge in the centre of her dress…a black heart; pain, loneliness, misery?  Beside her is a “Mandy” doll, another clear nod to the 1970’s, which suggests that we have travelled back in time and that this film, and the song, are historical in their content.  On the bed, gazing adoringly at the standing girl, is her sister dressed in black and yellow…a bee?  Is there a sting in this tale?  The walls are adorned with pictures of seventies heart throbs and female singers of the era.  Is this all period dressing or are the sisters revivalists, scenesters or, Heaven help us, hipsters (maybe pre-hipsters)?

The next title card suggests that there is in fact a story to be told here.  But what narrative structure will it follow?  Equilibrium – disruption – new equilibrium?  Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey”?

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From this point on the video delivers a series of shots of the two sisters larking around in their bedroom and more title cards letting us know when the chorus has arrived, cuts and jump cuts are made and ultimately leaving us none the wiser about who the girls are or what is really going on.

The most interesting images are the following three;

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The older of the two girls swoons over this image pinned to her wall…a heart-throb, a dreamboat, an object of desire.  The teenage pin-up is a harmless gateway to the world of real love…or is it…

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Now she poses with a cushion tucked up inside her pinafore dress while her younger sister looks on with curiosity; what, who, how, she asks.  Her inability to grasp what her sister is suggesting is clarified with this image…

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All of the curiosities and conflicts within the world of burgeoning adolescent sexuality, and maybe within the world of Pulp, are present and incorrect in these three images…desire, the reality of sex and the innocence/frustration of the outsiders.

It is difficult to imagine any other band making a video like this during the Britpop era.  Certainly it has more craft, invention and artistic vision than, oh, “Country House”?  But then this was the great joy of Pulp; they were always more than just a pop group they blended, melded and welded art, literature, film into something utterly unique and completely familiar to the uncool kids…they were the outsiders outsiders, the boxroom rebels made good, the unlikely lads and lass who came to define the era in ways that few others could.

 

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