Beware of Mr. Baker Review
There's a cliché that to be a great artist you have to behave very badly towards others, anywhere along the spectrum from arrogance to outright sociopathy. The genius as shit. While there are undoubtedly have been great artists who have been less than pleasant human beings, great art has also been produced by quite benign individuals. But stereotypes have basis in truth, and Peter Edward “Ginger” Baker certainly lives up to this one. This documentary certainly lines up the testimonies to his genius and influence as a drummer, but there's more than enough evidence for his abrasiveness and his distinctly anti-social personality. Its title derives from the sign outside Baker's South African estate, and the film's director, Jay Bulger, earns it in the opening moments. Jay Bulger interviewed Baker for Rolling Stone and this documentary followed on from that. The lines between filmmaker and subject are blurred from the outset when Baker objects to Bulger interviewing fellow associates and family members and hits Bulger with his cane, breaking his nose...all on camera. Throughout the interview which makes up this film, he disparages Bulger, calling him an idiot, dumb and worse.
Baker was born in 1939, and earned the name Ginger for his red hair, now all turned white. His father died in World War II when Baker was four, and ten years later he read a letter that Baker Senior had left for him to read when he reached that age. “Your fists are your friends” was one thing that his father told him, and short animated segments dramatise a childhood and adolescence forever getting into fights. Baker seems to have been a hyperactive child, and has become a restless adult, never wanting to stay in the same place for long and often by his own behaviour forced to move on. Always pounding on tables and desks as a child, when Baker was sat behind a drum kit he found his vocation. He was blessed with “time”, or natural rhythm, as he put it, a quality he values in other musicians – a god-given gift. Jazz was his first love and he regards himself as a jazz drummer and his disparaging towards such legendary rock drummers as John Bonham and Keith Moon (neither around to answer back) who had technique, he grants them, but couldn't “swing a sack of shit”. But despite that, it was his role in bands such as Cream and Blind Faith that helped to lay the template for rock drumming, especially hard rock and heavy metal. Cream only lasted two years and four albums, a volatile trio of virtuosos: Baker, bassist/vocalist (and principal songwriter with lyricist Pete Brown) Jack Bruce and guitarist/vocalist Eric Clapton. Bruce and Baker had worked together in the The Graham Bond Organisation and had frequently come to blows, with Baker at one point drawing a knife on Bruce. Clapton was frequently caught in the middle of this, which he found distressing. It's a cause of lasting bitterness for Baker that he had less money than the other two due to his lack of songwriting credits (though he does have some on their studio albums) and specifically claims the 5/4-time bolero that opens “White Room” as his own work.
That said, when he has had money, such as the big-payday Cream reunion concerts in 2005 - he frequently blew it, often spending fortunes on his beloved polo ponies. Horses don't let you down, he says, nor do dogs. It's people who do, or rather adults – he clearly dotes on his stepchildren by his fourth wife. His drums are his other love, and he becomes visibly moved when he talks of four of his heroes who became his friends. He has a history of drug abuse. His three previous marriages all ended acrimoniously. The second marriage was to a teenager with whom he ran off to Italy, leaving his first wife and their children to lose their home to bailiffs. He refuses to even discuss his third marriage. However, they do talk about him, as do his daughters Ginette and Leda and his son Kofi, also a drummer.
Beware of Mr. Baker isn't a muso documentary: while plenty of celebrated drummers extol Baker's work, you won't get much idea of precisely what he did that made him stand out (for example, the use of two bass drums instead of just one), however undeniably impressive the results as seen in copious archive footage. What we do get is a picture of a complex, volatile man who clearly has little regard for the damage he has left behind him. He's now in his seventies and in poor heath with degenerative osteoarthritis and at one point using an oxygen mask (he's been smoking throughout), it may be close to the end of the road, as his daughter Leda says. However much his difficulties have been self-inflicted, he's still a sad figure.
Beware of Mr. Baker is the first release by Curzon Film World, a sister imprint to Artificial Eye. It was the DVD edition that was received for review, and affiliate links refer to that. (For those for the Blu-ray edition, go here.) The DVD is encoded for Region 2 only.
The DVD transfer is in the ratio of 1.78:1 and is anamorphically enhanced. The interviews with Baker and others were shot in HD, while the archive footage comes from a variety of sources and originating materials, film and SD video amongst them. The HD material is clear and sharp and much as it should be, and the transfer does its job.
There are two soundtrack options for this English-language feature, Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Surround (2.0). Given that the great majority of this documentary consists of people talking to camera, and much of the archive material is monophonic, it's clear that this isn't a soundtrack that will test your system much. Many of the music tracks played on the soundtrack are the original stereo recordings. There is some use of directional sounds and the surrounds during the animated scenes and some of the later concert material. The subwoofer primarily fills in the low end of the music. There are no subtitles for the hard-of-hearing available, but subtitles – yellow in colour – appear in one scene where Baker's voice is indistinct.
The only extra is the trailer (2:17).
7 out of 10
8 out of 10
7 out of 10
1 out of 10