Film: Beware of Mr. Baker (2012)

February 1, 2013 | By

Return to: Home Blu-ray, DVD, Film Reviews /B

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Film: Very Good/ DVD Transfer:  n/a / DVD Extras: n/a

Label: n/a/ Region: n/a / Released: n/a

Genre: Rock Documentary

Synopsis: Vivid portrait of legendary Cream drummer Ginger Baker.

Special Features:  n/a

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Review:

Any documentary that opens with its director getting clocked in the nose by his subject’s stainless steel cane is instantly provocative, and journalist turned filmmaker Jay Bulger crafts a fairly solid portrait of reluctant star drummer Ginger Baker, the red-haired virtuoso and ‘complete musician’ whose life spanned jazz combos, British rock, early prog rock, world music, and jazz fusion.

There’s a fair amount of hype surrounding Beware of Mr. Baker (the name is taken from the warning signage at the entrance of Baker’s South African farm), mostly due to frank tales of the drummer’s manic / demonic / abusive / drug-binging persona, but the surprise isn’t that Baker isn’t dead from years of heavy drug use, but that he’s managed to consistently get back to making music no matter what crazy, cruel or terribly self-destructive behaviour he’s endured.

A member of the Cream, Blind Faith, and other respected yet short-lived groups who played hard & brilliantly, Baker’s life shifted from a combative youth to jazz drummer, meeting jazz and rock peers and eventually gaining attention and gainful employment. Certainly during his tenure with Cream – alongside members Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce – he became a global rock star. His later solo efforts to parlay that fame into his own indie career eventually took him to Africa, and far away from the rock scene, he immersed himself in the rich percussion of Lagos and Nigeria before divisive national politics and a life-threatening incident sent him packing. By the early 80s he was largely forgotten, and in spite of a return to jazz during the nineties (there’s great footage of Baker doing an old time ‘battle’ with iconoclastic Bebop drummer Art Blakey), Baker never managed to regain his stature as rock’s pre-eminent drummer.

Bulger’s film is comprised of rare on-camera interview footage at Baker’s South African home, as well as sometimes brutally frank segments with his colleagues, children, and ex-wives – all beautifully layered in mini-montages featuring material from his musical periods –  but after the African / Nigeria segment, the doc starts to hit a few bumps, largely because the film’s pacing has been consistently manic.

There’s a lull in the final segment when Bulger delves into Baker’s time in Italy and the U.S., and these were the lean years when Baker was broke and ignored by the current musical establishment. (His oddest career turn was a bit part in the short-lived 1990 crime series Nasty Boys.) There’s admittedly less archival footage here, and although Baker refuses to discuss life with his second wife, she’s on hand for her own psychological assessment of his personality quirks and flaws, as is son Kofi, an accmplished drummer whose ties with his father ended when Baker left the U.S.

The doc does recover a little in the finale when Baker must confront another grievous financial situation and contemplate a return to playing after a long period of inactivity, but there’s a loss of dramatic momentum which somewhat mutes the film’s initial impact. To maintain continuity between the various speakers and archival footage, Bulger interpolates some great animated vignettes which become a visual mtoif for a journeyman musician bouncing between continents as he starts a new chapter in another new land.

The only lingering flaw in Bulger’s otherwise informative doc is the edited music excepts which keep the film moving. Fans wanting longer chunks that really show off Baker’s brilliance won’t be happy with the condensed sessions, but perhaps Bulger’s reasoning is tied to high licensing fees, and the fact the early years are the most arresting; the contrast between the late sixties versus the early eighties is distinct, and had he boosted the concert footage in the first two-thirds, audiences may have found the final section even less intriguing. More material from his time in Nigeria would also have a big plus, but a good chunk of the excerpted footage has been released on video, so Bulger’s film will undoubtedly boost an interest in Baker’s music and concerts on CD and video.

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© 2013 Mark R. Hasan

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External References:

IMDB Official Website

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Amazon Search Links:

Amazon.ca Amazon.com Amazon.co.uk
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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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