Film Review: Beware of Mr. Baker
Review by Belle McIntyre
Who could have imagined that Ginger Baker would still be alive? When I saw him in Providence, Rhode Island in the late 60’s he was already on what was being called his “last concert” tour on account of he was supposedly dying from taking so much speed. It was a mad, packed scene and totally electrifying. Everyone was taking something or else was getting a “contact” high from the raw energy. And it was easy to believe that he might just die on the stage. The man was moving so fast and furiously that he was a blur and when you thought it couldn’t go on any longer he kept on going. He did not seem human. It was an unforgettable experience and it felt historic.
Anyway, the music of Cream was so much a part of that time of my life that it is hard to believe that the band was only together for two and a half years. And Ginger Baker did not die. He went on to play with Dire Straits and Blind Faith. My musical tastes evolved and he sort of dropped out sight and mind. But as I have learned from seeing this remarkable documentary - he has been anything but dead. Still crazy, manic, hot-tempered, playing drums and burning bridges. The only thing he seems to have stopped doing is taking drugs. He kept getting married (four times) and smoking non-stop and he took up polo with almost the same passion as he had for music.
He drove across the Sahara to Lagos and met and formed a close bond with Fela Kuti. He built a recording studio and seemed to be thriving for six years until he found himself on the wrong side of those in power and bolted leaving everything behind. He moved to Los Angeles, got married again, moved to Italy, got dumped by his young bride, moved back to the US, got married again, began recording with some of the jazz greats that he most admired, then left everything behind again and moved to South Africa where he now lives with wife number four, two step-children and polo ponies. He seems to be down on his luck, not in good health and short on cash. Yet, just when it seems he must be at the end of his rope, he rises like a Phoenix and pulls off another gig.
Every one of the musicians interviewed, including his myriad bandmates reveres him for his brilliance, musicianship, and sheer genius. But mostly they keep him at a distance as his volatility and unpredictability make him pretty impossible as a person.
It is a great story and well told, mostly as straight interviews, interspersed with fantastic archival footage and some very clever animations used as chapter headings. It was way better than I expected and surprisingly so as a first effort by such a young filmmaker. It was directed by Jay Bulger, who worked on it for four years, presenting at SXSW in Austin, Texas in 2012 where it won the top award for a documentary. My only objection is the same as that which caused Ginger Baker to hit him and break his nose. His interviewing style was really annoying and intrusive and I wanted to hit him too. But it vividly conjured up the period and the music in a way that felt fantastically real to me. So he can be forgiven.