Beware of Mr. Baker
Directed by Jay Bulger
"He influenced me as a drummer," says one talking head, "not as a person." That's the central conflict in this documentary about Ginger Baker, the jazz-rock drummer in Cream, Blind Faith, and many other bands over the last several decades: he was a hell of a musician and a real son of a bitch. And you don't have to take those talking heads' words for it: not only do we hear plenty of Baker's mind-blowing music, but director Bulger, a boxer-model-journalist turned documentarian, also scored long interviews with the hotheaded grouch at his South African compound. (The sign at its entrance gives the movie its title.) The storytelling here proves more compelling than the story.
Baker's life and career form a familiar rock n' roll narrative: he took too many drugs, was a bad father, pushed away friends and fought with collaborators. But the details are uniquely Baker: he pulled a knife on bassist Jack Bruce because he played during Baker's solo, he was shot at by Nigerian soldiers while fleeing the recording studio he built in Lagos. But better than these anecdotes is Baker himself: aged, perpetually frowning and anything but harmless; the movie opens with him hitting Bulger in the face with a cane. Throughout, he gives Bulger the finger, shouts at him, makes fun of him. "Stop trying to be an intellectual dickhead," he tells him. When Bulger asks him when he was born, he says, "you know when I was fucking born."
Bulger first met Baker by pretending to be a Rolling Stone reporter; he lived with him for months before he started filming. Surely it's Bulger's ability to take Baker's shit and throw it back at him that made them friends—and got him the access that makes the film. Bulger clearly understands Baker; the director's smart enough not to wonder how someone so antisocial could be so talented. The movie's point is that Baker's attitude is inseparable from his artistry.
Opens Novemeber 28