More hagiography than soul-searcher, “Pleasure and Pain” follows cult musician Ben Harper on European and U.S. tours. Long concert segs make it more suitable to arts events than film fests, and backing of Virgin Records guarantees significant spin on MTV and other musicvid skeins, as well as a mass-marketed DVD.
Title, taken from an early Harper tune, suggests more than meets the eye, with backstage chatter taking the place of insight. Expert rock photog-turned-helmer Danny Clinch, using various film and video stocks, lets his somewhat reticent subject lead about personal life or issues. More is revealed when Harper returns to childhood SoCal home, and viewers meet his Merlin-like grandfather, in whose phantasmagoric music store he grew up. Most touching scene has Harper playing a Dylan tune with his talented mother who, like her mother, taught the young mixed-race Harper an Appalachian strain. Scene where he decimates a clumsy French critic is less felicitous, but controversy is kept to a minimum. Well-recorded pic will appeal to hardcore base and guitar fanatics, but it’s finally just like Harper’s music: nice and bland.