By: Robert Ker Published online: Friday, January 25, 2013 Appeared in: Pasateimpo
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documentary about drummer Ginger
Baker tries to paint him as a nasty old
man, but he generally just comes across as a grump
who’s lived the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle of drugs, women,
and burned bridges. Bulger traces Baker’s life from
a young man in London to a star behind the kit
in Cream to an adventurous spirit in Nigeria with
Afro-beat legend Fela Kuti. Baker’s story is best told,
however, by simply watching the man play the drums.
We receive plenty, though not quite enough, footage
of that. Not rated. 92 minutes.
Beware of Mr. Baker, documentary, not rated, The Screen, 3 chiles
The title of Jay Bulger’s documentary about drummer Ginger Baker is
telling. It refers to a sign in front of Baker’s modest estate in South Africa.
The movie opens with Bulger and Baker in the midst of a heated dispute
that culminates with Baker whacking Bulger in the nose with his cane.
Throughout the film, Baker comes off as surly and impatient in interviews
and doesn’t seem to have many allies in the world. At one point he states
that Eric Clapton is his best friend. This is followed by a shot of Clapton
saying that he doesn’t really know Baker at all. Based on this film, if I had
to describe Baker in one word, it might not be a word that would run in a
While the title is a nice selling point, it tilts what could have been a great
music documentary into one that too often makes the music secondary
to the central concept. Much of the case against him seems to be standard
rock-star indictments: he’s done too many drugs, had too many wives, and
burned too many bridges. He seems to be especially angry over the fact
that he’s relatively poor and gets no royalty payments from his work with
Cream, despite having a great deal of say in how the band’s songs were
arranged and despite the fact that his playing is such a big part of Cream’s
sound. Who wouldn’t be angry about this?
Other than this slant, Bulger’s documentary gives viewers a nice overview
of Baker’s career and a new appreciation for his work. We’re swiftly taken
from his London youth through his days with Cream and Blind Faith,
through his journeys to Africa and time spent with Fela Kuti, through his
unsuccessful comeback attempts to today. I was particularly impressed by
the “drum-offs” he held with jazz greats such as Art Blakey and Elvin Jones,
which I did not know about.
There is also the obligatory and unnecessary praise from the parade of
famous talking heads. Again, the music speaks for itself. The most lasting
image from the film is that of Baker doing what he loves — sitting behind a
drum kit, playing in some wild time signature, cigarette cupped impossibly
in the bottom lip of his agape mouth, his eyes in a faraway place of pure joy.
More of that would have been nice.