The lifeblood of any great band is its drummer, with their percussive pulse acting as the beating heart behind a song’s memorable melody. Perhaps one of the greatest drummers to ever grace the stage was Cream’s Ginger Baker – the subject of Jay Bulgar’s award winning documentary Beware of Mr. Baker (2012) and one of rock ‘n’ roll’s most infamous personalities. From his troubled childhood to his jazz beginnings, all the way through to his famous career with Cream and Blind Faith, Beware of Mr. Baker encompasses all of the drummer’s life, right up to his present day life in Africa – a continent whose rhythms would change Baker forever.
Any film which opens with its subject physically assaulting the director promises to be an entertaining story. Self-described as the sort of man who wouldn’t sue you if you hit him; he’d just hit you back Baker is an incredibly confrontational protagonist. Unlike your usual cautionary tale of rock and roll excess Baker was taken down by his obsession with polo, which coupled with his compulsive personality, has left him poor and almost forgotten. However, his meagre situation hasn’t diluted his vivacious personality, constantly spouted lines such as; “The birth of Heavy metal should have been aborted.”
Whilst clearly a fascinating subject, the decisions he made in his personal life are incredibly questionable and leave the audience struggling to sympathise with his situation, culminating in this comprehensive documentary feeling a little more languid and meandering than its explosive opening would initially suggest. Making use of split screen interviews (intended to mimic the dexterity required of a drummer), animation and archive footage, Bulgar’s film is a must-see for anyone with an interest in 1950s-70s music history.
It’s perhaps Bulgar’s ability to harvest a deeply personal and honest testimony from his subjects that is perhaps the most intriguing element of the film. Clearly revered and feared by his contemporaries in equal measure, Baker’s story is one that could only transpire in the hedonistic world of rock ‘n’ roll. A fascinating portrait of one of music’s most flamboyant characters Beware of Mr. Baker is an enthralling, if not occasionally strenuous tale of rock ‘n’ roll excess.
The 56th BFI London Film Festival runs from 10-21 October. For more of our LFF coverage, simply follow this link.