Monday, November 26, 2012

Ginger and Afro Beat

Beware of Mr. Baker (2012) - Bulger
Ginger Baker, a legendary 60s rock drummer for such influential mega bands as Cream and Blind Faith, is the subject of Jay Bulger’s revealing documentary. Known for his unparalleled virtuosic drumming and also his explosive temper, Baker is first seen assaulting Bulger with his cane, leaving the young director with a bloody nose.

Borne out of Bulger’s Rolling Stone interview, the film tracks Baker down living in Tulbagh, South Africa with his 4th wife and several horses in near seclusion. The subject is a very cranky old man. Bulger’s approach is just as aggressive- barking questions at the man whom everyone was afraid to work with some forty years ago. But the floodgate opens and a wild, colorful tale of a crazy eyed, puffy redhead spills out.

Just like Charlie Watts of Rolling Stones, Baker started as a jazz drummer. Heavily influenced by the African rhythm, his style revolutionized the rock sound and became the root of many genres of music that came after him. But it was his temper and heavy drug use that others found difficult to work with. Both admirers and detractors acknowledge his talent, from Eric Clapton to Johnny Rotten but are wary of his madness.

The highlight of the film is definitely what comes after the segment of his short-lived stint with Cream and Blind Faith. As his daughter aptly describes his condition: ability to constantly move or inability to stay in one place, Baker hopped on his Range Rover and drove across the Saharan desert. He ended up in politically tumultuous Nigeria in 1970, playing with legendary Fela Kuti and setting up a studio in Lagos. Using footages from Tony Palmer’s vibrant 1971 recording, Ginger Baker in Africa, it reveals Baker’s true love- Afro Beat and polo.

There are many juicy bits in the film- Jack Bruce recounting getting beaten up by Baker only to be asked by him again later to join Cream, Baker’s many ‘drum battles’ with his jazz heroes– Elvin Jones, Art Blakey, Phil Seaman, etc., him being resurfaced in the 90s only to be taunted by the metal fans on stage and being stupefied by a question if Nirvana was the new Cream, all the while keeping up his charming relationship with the director: “Do you see yourself as a tragic hero?” “Go on with the interview and don’t try to be an intellectual dighead!”

Well armed with interviews and stock footage and a certain cocky flare (not necessarily bad in this case), Beware of Mr. Baker paints an in-depth, entertaining picture of an artist who never apologizes for who he is.

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