Beware of Mr Baker (15)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner15/05/2013

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 92 mins

Searingly honest and ultimately deeply moving, this is a fascinating portrait of notoriously antisocial former Cream drummer Ginger Baker, now 73 and still raging.

What's it all about?
Directed by Jay Bulger, Beware of Mr Baker opens with the 73 year old former Cream drummer angrily smacking the director in the face with a cane upon learning that he plans to interview former colleagues as part of the film. The film then observes Baker as he reminisces, in to-camera interviews, about his life and career, beginning with losing his father at the age of 4 during WWII and moving through learning the drums on the 1950s London jazz scene and achieving 1960s success as the drummer with Cream and Blind Faith.

Subsequently, Baker emigrated to Nigeria in the 1970s, where he collaborated with Afro-beat star Fela Kuti and helped set up a recording studio, before jazz-based stints in the US (where he won the approval of his idol, Max Roach) that ended in his deportation. The film finds Baker settled in South Africa, on his fourth marriage, suffering from arthritis and estranged from almost everyone he knows, but still occasionally performing to dedicated fans in Europe.

The Good
It's fair to say that, as the director discovers to his cost, Baker is not an easy character to like, as evidenced by the fact that none of the assembled talking heads seems to have a good word to say about him; even former band-mate Eric Clapton, who Baker regards as probably his best friend in the world, muses on just how well he really knows Baker.

That said, Baker's musical talent and influence are unquestionable, at least according to the parade of famous drummers (including the Rolling Stones' Charlie Watts and The Police's Stewart Copeland) who line up to sing his praises, while the terrific archive footage reveals a singular, if notoriously difficult talent (he apparently once pulled a knife on Cream bassist Jack Bruce for daring to play during a drum solo).

The Great
Bulger doesn't attempt to sugar-coat Baker's story, allowing his subject to give a refreshingly warts-and-all account that fully acknowledges the role that his various addictions have played in his life. However, even though it's clear from a less-than-glowing interview with Baker's current wife that he hasn't exactly mellowed over the years, his story is ultimately moving, not least when he reveals his struggles with arthritis; there's also a palpable sense of sadness, as you realise that Baker has clearly lacked anything even remotely resembling an effective support network over the years.

Worth seeing?
Beware of Mr Baker is a well made and refreshingly open rock documentary that paints a fascinating portrait of a talented and complex figure. Recommended.

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Content updated: 26/09/2018 11:43

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