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Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Film - Beware of Mr. Baker - directed by Jay Bulger

Star rating - 8/10
You don't have to know much about legendary drummer Ginger Baker, and you certainly don't have to love his music either, to appreciate this fascinating documentary about his hell raising and quite sad life.
Named after the sign that greeted visitors to his gated South African ranch, American director Jay Bulger explores his genius, flaws and failings. And there are many. Baker is famous for being the drummer in 60's super group Cream, alongside Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce. Many thought of them as a rock group, but Baker's influences were more jazz than rock. The venture only lasted a few years, as Baker was either impossible to be with for any length of time, or he walked away of his own accord. It is a poignant moment when he describes Clapton as still his best friend, when it was clear that, whilst caring about him, Clapton obviously does not reciprocate that depth of feeling for his old pal. 

Baker had a hard working class London childhood, and was obviously deeply traumatised by the death of his father in the Second World War. A letter from his Dad written before his death and opened after it, advised him to use his fists when he needed to and not to let others bully him. Baker seems to have taken this to heart a touch too much, and has fought his way through his life, either physically or verbally, ever since.

But it is the musical genius of the man which really shines though this film, his drum battles with famous jazz drummers of the day; his magpie-like collection of musical influences across Africa and other continents. As he says - drumming is all about time - and timing is something that no-one can deny he has is abundance. His drum solos still having the power to mesmerise until just a few years ago.

Now in his 70's and stony broke again, with a trail of failed relationships of all sorts in his wake, he is still angry at the world. Even director Bulger himself gets on the wrong end of a lashing from Baker. But it's hard to see how his musical genius could have been created if he had not such a compulsive personality in other areas - be it in polo horses, wives, or heroin. This is a fascinating documentary about a real one -off character. 

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