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Beware of Mr. Baker (2012)

 -  Documentary  -  17 May 2013 (UK)
7.5
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Ratings: 7.5/10 from 870 users   Metascore: 78/100
Reviews: 15 user | 54 critic | 16 from Metacritic.com

Ginger Baker looks back on his musical career with Cream and Blind Faith; his introduction to Fela Kuti; his self-destructive patterns and losses of fortune; and his current life inside a fortified South African compound.

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Title: Beware of Mr. Baker (2012)

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Cast

Credited cast:
Bob Adcock
Tony Allen
Carmine Appice
Brian Auger
Ginette Baker
...
Himself
Leda Baker
Malcolm Cecil
Joni Haastrup
Jon Hiseman
Simon Kirke
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Ginger Baker looks back on his musical career with Cream and Blind Faith; his introduction to Fela Kuti; his self-destructive patterns and losses of fortune; and his current life inside a fortified South African compound.

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17 May 2013 (UK)  »

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Beware of Mr. Baker  »

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Opening Weekend:

$12,195 (USA) (30 November 2012)

Gross:

$114,271 (USA) (1 March 2013)
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"This is a film about Ginger Baker." - Johnny Rotten
7 October 2012 | by See all my reviews

Beware of Mr. Baker is the most exhilarating, enthralling, disquieting and laugh out loud funny documentary I've seen in quite a while. This is especially surprising coming from first-time filmmaker, Rolling Stone writer and ex-boxer Jay Bulger. It profiles the many ups and downs of former Cream and Blind Faith drummer, Ginger Baker.

Yes, it helps that Baker is the ultimate curmudgeon who cares squat about what people think of him. He speaks his mind, often in hilarious bursts of profanity. The drummer can barely speak without unleashing some brutal gem at once outrageous and more often than not funny as hell.

But it's the filmmaking that also shines here, pairing with the drummer's tales in perfect synchronization. Baker's unique form of storytelling and opining comes across in short blasts much like one of his rim shots, captured skillfully by Bulger. This documentary is notable for its pacing, using animation and quick edits to give a smooth musicality to the film. Baker talks throughout the film about the rare gift of timing. Bulger's got it. That's quite an achievement for a first-time director - for any director.

While the interviewees (a plethora of musicians and long-suffering family members, including Clapton, Bruce, Watts, Peart, Ulrich, ex-wives and resigned children) make no bones about Ginger Baker being a total prick, it's hard not to empathize at least in part with Baker's life. A cruel father to his only son (now a respected drummer), a negligent husband and mean bastard to almost everyone he ever encountered, there is not a lot to like about the man.

Then again, it's hard to tell how much of Baker's bravado is show and how much is real. In a short but telling scene, he is surprised by the camera while he is silly dancing for his step-daughters much to their delight. No doubt Baker has his ugly side but it's scenes like this that give the doc its rough-hewn charm.

What this biopic does best is present what is good about Ginger Baker - his prodigious drumming. Finely navigating the drummer's early life, his days leading up to Cream's breakout to his days in Africa (the live performances by Fela Kuti and band shown here are alone worth the price of admission), the film puts the spotlight squarely on the music.

Baker cares little for people. His life was and still is his drum kit. I had forgotten how rounded his skills are for arranging, producing and playing. His drum battles with the primo jazz drummers of the day - Elvin Jones, Art Blakey, Phil Seaman - are ear-poppingly wonderful.

It helps enormously that Baker's madman looks and flaming orange hair are iconic. The skillful and oftentimes funny animation makes full use of this iconography, emphasizing the bigger-than-life halo that slums around Mr. Baker's head. Now 73-years-old and grey, that Baker has survived a career of unimaginable fame, riches, women, and mostly heroin, to live yet another day is phenomenal.

While the man's bluntness, musicality and humour dominate the film, the real beauty is in Bulger's ability to shine a light on the one overriding aspect of Ginger Baker that makes him such a fascinating subject. That is, a peculiar talent for walking into adventures the rest of us would never attempt. Often coming out broke and worse for wear, the abominable Mr. Baker, as he has done all his life, takes a breath and moves on to the next inexplicable enterprise, lacking any sense of self-doubt and living a life seemingly without remorse, at least when it comes to others.


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