A storm of drums and cymbals on the soundtrack. An elderly man on a South African farm brandishing his metal walking stick and ranting “I’m going to put you in hospital” to director Jay Bulger. Said stick connecting with Bulger’s nose.
Welcome to the world of the peerless, legendary – and somewhat confrontational – drummer Ginger Baker, subject of this aptly titled docu-portrait.
Best known for his stints in ’60s super-groups Cream and Blind Faith, Baker (who’d cut his musical teeth in London’s jazz clubs in the late ’50s/early ’60s) decamped to Nigeria in the early ’70s, where he built a music studio in Lagos and worked with Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti.
If Beware Of Mr. Baker ladles praise on its subject’s seemingly intuitive talents, it doesn’t shy from showing us how difficult he can be, especially to those closest to him personally and professionally.
Bulger has assembled a fine line-up of talking heads: Baker himself (interviewed at his rural retreat), former creative collaborators (including Eric Clapton and John Lydon) and various relatives.
The first-time director also weaves in (slightly superfluous) 3D animated interludes and some choice archival footage. The end result is a riveting journey through the highs and lows of a peripatetic, addiction-fuelled life.
Though the film doesn’t labour the point, the early loss of Baker’s father in WW2 appears to have been the catalyst for a series of betrayals and failed relationships; turns out the reason for the opening cane attack is Bulger announcing that he’s going to tap up faces from Baker’s past, including abandoned ex-wives, for interview
Yet Bulger also captures a more vulnerable side of his subject. Arthritic, morphine-dependent and facing financial ruin, the septuagenarian appears to be raging against the dying of the light. But a scene where Bulger asks him to take off his sunglasses movingly reveals the depths of the man’s pain.