The Big Melt

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The Big Melt
The Big Melt - dvd cover.jpg
DVD cover
Directed byMartin Wallace
Produced by
  • Crossover
  • Lone Star
Music byJarvis Cocker
Release date
12 June 2013
Running time
71 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

The Big Melt is a documentary film about the Sheffield steel industry which combines archive footage with a live soundtrack. It was made by Jarvis Cocker and filmmaker Martin Wallace for the 20th annual Sheffield Doc/Fest in 2013, to celebrate the centenary of the steel industry. The film was made using footage from the BFI National Archive.[1][2][3] The film was commissioned by BBC Storyville and BBC North in association with the BFI, using public funding from the National Lottery through Arts Council England.[4]

The film[edit]

The Big Melt followed From the Sea to the Land Beyond, a similar commission by Doc/Fest in 2012.

Cocker was initially reluctant to be involved because he felt that Sheffield's Steel City image was a cliché. He agreed to take part after seeing footage of a boy putting two fingers up to the camera in the early 1900s, which reminded him of Kes, the film by Ken Loach.[1][5] The Big Melt was billed as 'a brand new kind of heavy metal music', and as 'a music and film journey into the soul of a nation, bringing to life the ghosts of our past, taking us into the belly of the furnaces and showing how our souls have been stamped from the mighty presses of our industrial heritage'.[6] The restoration and screening of the archive footage was done as part of the BFI's This Working Life: Steel project.[7] The film shows the manufacturing processes and the social history of the people behind it,[2] going as far back as 1900.[8] There is no narration.[9] It includes both colour and black-and-white film. Footage includes a girl making shells in a munitions factory during the First World War, men working on the Tyne Bridge,[10] and a propagandist cartoon imagining a world without steel. The Guardian described the effect of the film as like "a really trippy educational video"[1] and Wallace said he intended the film to be "fantastical, playful and challenging".[11] The Observer called it "one of the best films ever to appear in the Storyville documentary strand".[8]

The soundtrack[edit]

The soundtrack was performed live by Cocker accompanied by over 50 musicians, including many Sheffield artists. Some tracks were re-recorded for the official release of the documentary,[12] while some were recorded live. Musicians included:

The music played includes versions of:


The world premiere was on 12 June 2013 at the Crucible Theatre to an audience of nearly 1000 people.[4] The film with accompanying soundtrack was screened at the Curzon Chelsea on 8 January 2014,[15] and broadcast on the BBC's Storyville on 26 January 2014 under the title The Big Melt – How Steel Made Us Hard.[16]


  1. ^ a b c Shoard, Catherine (17 June 2013). "Jarvis Cocker on The Big Melt: 'It's Not About Steel, It's the Attitude'". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 January 2014.
  2. ^ a b Wray, Daniel Dylan (13 June 2013). "Music review: Jarvis Cocker, The Big Melt, The Crucible Theatre, Sheffield". The Independent.
  3. ^ Bowen, Daniel (10 June 2013). "Steel Yourself". The Big Issue in the North.
  4. ^ a b Considine, Pippa (10 May 2013). "Sheffield Doc/Fest Highlights for 2013". Televisual.
  5. ^ a b "Sorted for Steel and Strings". NME. 22 June 2013.
  6. ^ "Sheffield Theme to Festival Opening Night". The Star (Doncaster). 30 May 2013.
  7. ^ Walker, Graham (13 June 2013). "Video: Cocker and Hawley Launch Sheffield Doc Fest". The Star.
  8. ^ a b Bradley, Mike (26 January 2014). "Storyville: The Big Melt". The Observer (The New Review).
  9. ^ "Highlights". The Mail on Sunday. 26 January 2014.
  10. ^ Chater, David (26 January 2014). "The Big Melt". The Times Saturday Review.
  11. ^ a b "Pulp's Jarvis Cocker to Perform at Sheffield Premiere of Steel Documentary The Big Melt". NME. 10 June 2013.
  12. ^ "Unite Team Up with Jarvis Cocker". 15 June 2013.
  13. ^ Shoard, Catherine (10 June 2013). "Jarvis Cocker Gears Up to Be Sheffield Doc/Fest's Man of Steel". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 January 2014.
  14. ^ Dunn, Jamie (1 July 2013). "Reel Life". The Skinny.
  15. ^ "The Big Melt". Curzon Cinemas. Archived from the original on 7 January 2014. Retrieved 16 December 2013.
  16. ^ "The Big Melt - How Steel Made Us Hard". Storyville. 26 January 2014. BBC Four. Retrieved 5 November 2014.

External links[edit]