Filmmaker Captures Ben Harper’s ‘Pleasure And Pain’

Onstage/offstage footage to make rounds at film festivals before DVD release.

Ben Harper’s next tour may consist of stops in Berlin; Toronto; Edinburgh, Scotland; and Telluride, Colorado.

At least, those are the cities whose film festivals are being targeted for a new 90-minute movie chronicling the life and music of the funky, soulful singer/songwriter.

“Pleasure and Pain” was conceived, produced and shot by rock photographer Danny Clinch, who toured with Harper throughout the United States and Europe last year. In addition, Clinch traveled to Harper’s childhood home in Claremont, California, and interviewed Harper’s parents, grandmother and other people he grew up with. The movie’s $300,000 budget was largely financed by Harper’s label, Virgin.

“My understanding is that most music videos cost more than $300,000,” Clinch said from his New York office. “We did a full-length feature film for that. We did it really guerilla style. There was no production team, it was just me and my studio manager booking the flights and renting the cameras and flying by the seat of our pants.”
Like most rock movies, “Pleasure and Pain” features plenty of onstage footage, including the songs “Power of the Gospel,” “The Woman in You,” “Forgiven,” “Bleed Please” and “Steal My Kisses.” But Clinch’s real purpose was to reveal the person behind the performer.

“People automatically go, ‘Oh, it’s on Ben Harper — it must be a concert film,’ but it’s not,” Clinch said. “There’s lots of concert and backstage stuff in there, but it also goes into his life and the influences he grew up around.”
Throughout the movie, which should be out on DVD by Thanksgiving, Clinch complemented Harper’s creativity through unconventional shooting angles and a mixture of 16 mm, Super 8 and digital video camera work. He said he also tried to bring a unique look to the live clips.

“I shot so many shows, and we decided to mix them all together,” Clinch said. “Ben might be in Texas wearing a bandana in part of one song, and then we’ll cut to the next song and he’ll be in Paris with his big afro. He has so many styles not only in his music, but in the way he dresses, and I wanted to capture all of that.”
As illuminating as the concert material may be, Clinch said the most revealing scenes are the ones that depict Harper’s interaction with his family. At one point, Clinch suggested Harper play a song with his grandfather. Instead, Harper decided to sing the Bob Dylan song “Tomorrow Is a Long Time” with his mother.

“I filmed them working out this song together, and you can see the love between them,” Clinch said. “It’s very moving. We went from that scene to [one of] his mom actually singing the song onstage with him at [New York's] Roseland. Later, Ben said that was one of the most amazing musical experiences he’s ever had.”