Beware of Mr. Baker Jay Bulger

Beware of Mr. Baker Jay Bulger
This is the first documentary I've ever seen that opens with the subject smashing the filmmaker's nose. The subject in question is mad, mercurial drum god Ginger Baker, best known for beating out African polyrhythms in seminal rock trio Cream. The opening scene perfectly establishes Baker's fiery personality and tells us that this won't be a standard, fawning hagiography of a rock star.

Beware of Mr. Baker gives you the dirt on the history of Ginger Baker: losing a dad in WWII, beating up Cream bassist Jack Bruce, neglecting his English family, blowing his fortune, setting up a studio in war-torn '70s Nigeria and struggling with arthritis today. Well, as much as Bulger can. When Bulger probes too deeply, Baker snaps back with threats like, "Go on with the interview and stop trying to be an intellectual dickhead!"

The easy way out would have been to showcase Cream, Baker's most famous band, but Cream form only a part of this doc. Bulger wisely gives equal weight to Baker's Air Force (his jazz-rock big band of the early '70s), his recording studio in Nigeria, which the corrupt government chased him out of, his legendary "drum battles" with jazz idols like Elvin Jones, his foray into obscure bands like the Baker Burvitz Army, his love for polo and animals and his ongoing struggles with marriages, money and American immigration.

Bulger's portrait of Baker is frank and unflattering; he's a terrible father, has a violent temper and is a difficult bandmate, but is also an innovative musician, most likely the best rock — oh, sorry, jazz — drummer of his time. Baker also comes across as a vulnerable, frail man struggling with age.

Bulger does a fine job of telling Baker's story visually, digging up obscure film and TV clips, using witty animation to fill the gaps, and interviewing his first English wife and his estranged children, other wives, Bruce and Clapton of Cream, Steve Winwood of Blind Faith, and virtually all his former bandmates.

Beware of Mr. Baker, but welcome to his brilliant, destructive world. (Insurgent)