Jarvis Cocker on his film school days

Before he was a pop star, Jarvis Cocker wanted to be a director. Enrolling at film college and smearing reels with Vaseline were his first steps towards celluloid genius ...

In 1987, I had been out of school for over five years and realised that my life was going nowhere. The intervening years had been spent on the dole while being a member of a very unsuccessful band. I decided that it was time to get out while I could, and so I applied for a film and video course at Saint Martins College in London. With hindsight, this was extremely ambitious. I had no real experience in film-making, just two very rough short films that I'd made using a Standard 8 camera I'd bought at a jumble sale. Guess what? They accepted me, and I prepared myself for a life of partying and glamour in the capital.

It didn't quite work out that way, but I did complete the course. One of the first projects we were set involved Vaseline, bleach, a scalpel and a hole-punch - plus reels and reels of 16mm tourist board films donated by the Canadian embassy. We were told to attack the films with all the weapons at our disposal and then run them through the projector. The work we produced probably didn't do the college film projectors much good, but it did introduce us students to the concept of film passing through the film gate at 24 frames per second in a very direct and enjoyable (if smelly) way. You could spend an hour lovingly carving some complex pattern into a single film frame, only for it to race past you in, quite literally, the blink of an eye. Of course, I got bored with this and smeared about 200ft of film with Vaseline, chucked it in some bleach for five minutes, rinsed it in warm water, and then had a look at what I'd ended up with. The film kind of gives you a headache, but it does have some nice music on it (Psyché Rock by Pierre Henry). If you come down to the Sheffield Showroom cinema tonight, you can judge for yourself - it's Canadian Dinosaurs, the third film in a programme of work I made between 1988 and 1991.

Saint Martins was not a conventional film course. Some students seemed very disappointed that they were not getting in-depth lectures on technical aspects of cinema. Instead, we got lectures on the "Phallocentric Nature of Narrative Cinema". I awoke bleary-eyed one morning in a projection room (after illegally spending the night in college to finish off some editing) and witnessed the head of my course nodding sagely in the viewing theatre next door, as a first-year student showed a video that consisted of one continuous close-up of someone masturbating directly into the lens. I didn't stick around for the denouement.

Things like this did make me wonder just what it was we were supposed to be learning. But the bottom-line was that you had access to all Saint Martin's equipment and facilities, and no one was going tell you what kind of films to make. You had the freedom and space to discover your own voice. I guess that doesn't happen so much nowadays. I'm very grateful that I got to experience it and that now, almost 20 years on, I've been given the chance to share some of the results with people from the town I had to leave behind in order to go there.

My adventures in the avant-garde world, by Jarvis

Love Is Blue (1987)

This was the piece of work I showed at my interview for Saint Martins. I filmed it on a Standard 8 camera I found at a jumble sale. It was shot in the Sheaf Market, Sheffield (now demolished) and the music is by Claudine Longet. Amazingly enough, I got accepted.

Plastic Palace People (1988)

Stuff that I shot on the Standard 8 camera in Berlin, Sheffield, London and Blackpool - all edited to the soundtrack of my favourite Scott Walker song of that time. The baby in the film is now a fully grown woman of almost 20 years of age. Scary.

Big Head's Night In (1990)

Martin Wallace and I made three videos for Warp Records when they were starting out. This footage was used in the video for Aftermath by Nightmares on Wax, but I made it into a short in its own right. Big Head is played by Chris Wilson, who also made the sculptures. The music is a version of Lay Lady Lay by Claude Denjean.

Blue & Sepia Isabella (1990)

I found some large transparencies in the street. I took them home, stuck them on the front of the TV and filmed the results. The music is Pierre Henry again.

· Jarvis Cocker's films screen tonight at the Showroom, Sheffield, as part of the Sensoria festival. Details: 0114-275 7727.

Jarvis Cocker

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
From Do the Right Thing to Swimming Pool: culture's hottest heatwaves
Tension simmers, passions rage and things are never the same again. We pick the books, film and music in which heatwaves inspire race riots, sexual abandon – and even a chainsaw massacre

Ryan Gilbey

04, Jul, 2018 @12:36 PM

Article image
Pulp: Something changed
The oddest band in Britpop are reuniting. Great – it's about time they were seen outside the laddish constraints of mid-90s culture

Alexis Petridis

09, Nov, 2010 @9:42 AM

Article image
Pulp storm Reading festival 2011
There's anarchy from Odd Future and steady songs from the Strokes – but it's Jarvis Cocker's gang who steal the show as the sun finally shines at Reading festival 2011, writes Louis Pattison

Louis Pattison

28, Aug, 2011 @11:37 AM

Article image
Pulp: a beginner's guide

Dominic Kelly: We asked our readers to pick 10 essential Pulp tracks for newcomers. Here's what they came up with

Dominic Kelly

20, Dec, 2012 @9:26 AM

Article image
Pulp: 10 of the best
It took a long time for Pulp to make their breakthrough, but when they did their twisted stories of everyday life helped them occupy a unique place in pop

Ben Hewitt

24, Jun, 2015 @4:35 PM

Article image
Jarvis Cocker denies Pulp reunion rumours

The singer has dismissed reports that his former band will be playing the 40th anniversary of Glastonbury festival, saying that they have no plans to reunite

Tim Jonze

27, Oct, 2009 @5:32 PM

Article image
Observer review: Truth & Beauty - The Story of Pulp by Mark Sturdy

Mark Sturdy's account of the Jarvis Cocker story, Truth & Beauty, would benefit from some muck-raking and less minutiae

Kitty Empire

26, Jul, 2003 @11:33 PM

Article image
Pulp reunite for live dates in 2011

For the first time in 15 years, the classic Pulp lineup will re-form to play shows including London's Wireless festival and Spain's Primavera Sound

Rosie Swash

08, Nov, 2010 @2:19 PM

What are your favourite Pulp lyrics?

Musicians and poets pick their favourite lines from Pulp songs

Sarah Phillips

14, Oct, 2011 @3:53 PM

Article image
Pulp: A Film About Life, Death and Supermarkets review – misshapen Jarvis homecoming doc
All the Sheffield kooks line up for this concert film following Pulp's 2012 homecoming gig that could have used some of Jarvis's barbs, writes Henry Barnes

Henry Barnes

05, Jun, 2014 @9:45 PM