Beware of Mr. Baker – Movie Review

The rock documentary to be seen by all those who swore they would never see another.

Ginger Baker, is he still alive? The questions thunders through the middle aged and older rock community. Hard as it is to believe he is still alive, it is even harder to believe he would participate in a documentary.

Ginger Baker, the greatest rock drummer in history, the Bigfoot of rockers, allowing himself to be caged for long enough to get a few paragraphs of rationality on tape. Yes, it is true. It happened.

The film starts with filmmaker Jay Bulger outlining the gist of the film to Baker, describing those who had tentatively agreed to be interviewed and who had agreed to share their perspective of the man. The drummer exclaims to Bulger he will never consent to such a travesty and whacks his collaborator across the nose with his meter edged came. Jay retreats to his car, knowing, as do we all, this is going to be one great movie.

Setting a tone similar to the Hunter S. Thompson documentary, “Breakfast with Hunter,” wherein Thompson pulls a gun on director Alex Cox and chases him out of his house, “Beware” informs the audience right off the bat that their opinion of the film is neither welcomed nor respected.

This is not a film for the masses, it a film that embodies Baker’s desire to depict the world as the insane and senseless place he imagines it to be. This is man with a bottomless pit of devils; some are his legacy and some he has chosen to make. In that sense, it is a good film, for we all do much the same.

The film starts with some fascinating history about the beginnings of the first big power trio, Cream. Those of us who grew up with Crème were fixated on Eric Clapton. Guitar was king in those days and Clapton plays an atomic guitar. Like many rock drummers of the time, Baker was kept in the background, which was apparently all right with him, as long as the money, and the girls, were rolling in.

However, there was a problem with the long-term returns that accrue to the band to this day. The problem is that the royalties go to the writers, Baker and Clapton. Baker’s groundbreaking drumming was considered “arrangement” and, as such, receives no royalties.

This can hardly be blamed for the fact that the man is broke. From what we can tell, he would be broke if he had been given three times the money. It does not take the purchase of very many dozen polo ponies to whittle down a large fortune. The fact is Baker and Bruce despised each other as much as they respected each other’s talents.

One of Creams predecessor bands was the Graham Bond Organization, headed by Ginger Baker. Bruce was the bassist for the band for a time, until Baker fired him amidst a torrent of drug fueled temper tantrums. When Bruce refused to quit and showed up at gigs, Baker is reported to have driven him away at knifepoint.

The fact that he reunited with Bruce, against his instincts, and the fact that the union has been a perpetual money machine for Bruce, but not for Baker, provides the foundation for a life of severe misgivings, to say the least. The interviews with Jack Bruce contain few words, but endless insight into the trauma and genius that go hand in hand to make legends.

The first half of the film winds up with very good interviews with Steve Winwood and clips of Blind Faith, a great band but a shadow of the watershed Cream.

The latter half of the film is devoted to some of Baker’s best, but least interesting, work. Least interesting, perhaps, only to those of us who loved baker for his work in rock, grew up with Cream, and were not jazz aficionados. In 1972, he joined Fela Kuti’s Afrobeat and did some of the best drum work ever heard. He settled in Nigeria and built a recording studio for the band before being driven out by the incipient revolution and his own devils.

There are many rock documentaries that are nothing more than clips of a band’s salad days and a few anecdotes of high times. For those of you who have seen those documentaries and have sworn you would never see another, see this film. There are insights into the limitless highs and the fathomless lows of artistic genius as well as facts about the inner workings of the rock industry that have never been seen or heard before.

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Directed and Written by: Jay Bulger
Featuring: Jack Bruce, Eric Clapton, Bob Adcock, Tony Allen and Carmine Appice
Release Date: November 28, 2012
MPAA: Not Rated
Run Time: 92 minutes
Country: USA
Language: English
Color: Color