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Beware of Mr. Baker (2012)
"This is a film about Ginger Baker." - Johnny Rotten
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.
Pillow Talk (1959)
DeVol's score, Hudson's witty performance, Day's "roll eyes" and Thelma Ritter make this a classic
First off, the dialogue is breezy, clever and outright funny. Rock Hudson delivers his lines with panache. Doris Day defines "roll eyes". Then there's Thelma Ritter. Wow. What a hilarious performance.
The music is perfection - you can't beat the first 15 minutes; the integration of DeVol's inspired score, defining each character, emphasizing the comedy of the action and dialogue, is simply brilliant. When the movie begins after the opening credits, focusing on Doris Day's gams with her humming the theme music, continuing the soundscape, you know you're in for a treat.
If you want quick pacing, punctuated with witty (for the 50's) dialogue - this is it. Yes, the movie doesn't quite keep up the tightness of the first part but the *wink wink* humour and the pacing are immaculate. The ease with which Hudson and Day work together make this a delight. I now have a new appreciation for Doris Day - her reactions are priceless. The puritanism of Day's character, contrasted with Hudson's peurile and randy motivations, define the 50's sense of humour better than any other movie of the time.
What separates this movie from modern comedies is the pacing, the editing, the writing and the acting. Sit back, fluff some pillows, and get ready to laugh. It's no "Trouble in Paradise" or "My Man Godfrey", but it is entertaining. Compare "Pillow Talk" to the countless humourless, slowly- paced modern romantic comedies starring Kate Hudson or Katherine Heigl and the like. There is nobody around today - writers, directors, actors - who could pull of the witty dialogue and wicked-but-so-innocent charm of this Hudson/Day/Ritter vehicle. It's simpy delightful.