SIFF “Face The Music” Preview: Beware of Mr. Baker

Beware of Mr. Baker
Directed, written by Jay Bulger
(USA, 2012, 92 minutes)

Festival Screenings:
May 27, 2012 8:30 PM @ Everett Performing Arts Center
May 31, 2012 6:30 PM @ Harvard Exit *
June 1, 2012 4:00 PM @ Harvard Exit *
* Director Jay Bulger scheduled to attend

Review by Masa, Expansions:

Along with John Bonham and Keith Moon, Ginger Baker is one of the three greatest rock drummers of all times. Each of these three had a few things in common: 1. They were all mad crazy on or off stage, 2. They were super entertaining to watch play solos and destroy their kits, and 3. They all beat the shit out of their drums like a mother fucking beast! (God bless the 60’s, things were little bit wilder then.) But there is one thing Baker is that the others are not: Ginger Baker has survived the drug induced self-destructive path he took and is still alive at the age of 73. Ginger is one of those exceptional musicians who can still lay a beat down on his drums today. Beware of Mr. Baker is Ginger Baker telling us his life story, about the music, drugs, disputes, and regrets while chain-smoking in South Africa, where he lives with his wife and 39 polo ponies.

Jay Bulger’s documentary features a wide array of drummers and musicians who reveal through interviews just how mad Ginger is. Their names alone can be used to measure how influential he is: Johnny Rotten (PiL), Charlie Watts (The Rolling Stones), Carmine Appice (Beck, Bogert & Appice), Lars Ulrich (Metallica), Mickey Hart (The Greatful Dead), Max Weinberg (Bruce Springsteen & The E-Street Band), Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Neal Peart (Rush), Stuart Copeland (The Police), and Carlos Santana, among many others. Everyone agrees that Ginger is a great drummer to respect, and everyone thinks he is certifiably crazy. So does Ginger: “If they’ve got problem with me come see me and punch me on the nose. I ain’t gonna sue you, I’m gonna hit you back!”

Jay Bulger spent three months living with Ginger Baker, originally intending just to write a piece for Rolling Stone, but “In Search of Ginger Baker” soon became the foundation for this documentary. He collected the articles, photos, and archival footage with hours of interviews with Ginger’s families, musicians he has worked with in the past and those influenced by him. And in typical fashion, as Bulger completed the last interview for the film and was sitting in his car saying goodbye, Ginger punched him in the nose with his cane. Though Bulger has boxed in several tournaments, he probably didn’t see that coming! But perhaps in that moment, the title of his film, Beware of Mr. Baker, was conceived.

In the movie, you’ll learn how Peter Edward Baker, called “Ginger” after his hair color, grew to love British jazz from the late 1950s to early 1960s (he, by the way, prefers being called a jazz drummer rather than rock drummer); about his first band, The Storyville Jazz Men and The Hugh Rainey All Stars; how he became best know for playing with Cream in 1960s; and about all the releases he’s made since. You’ll hear how he developed strong passion for African rhythms and world music, how he moved to Nigeria for six years, how he collaborated with artists like Fela Kuti and the Africa 70, Hawkwind, Public Image Ltd., Masters of Reality, and many others. And you’ll love Beware of Mr. Baker not just as an entertaining documentary but also for its excellent sound.

Director Jay Bulger has spent fours years completing this film, trying to get close to Ginger Baker, and maybe at times he got little too close!, but that’s not bad thing especially since he received the SXSW Grand Jury prize for best documentary on his very first film. Superstar rock drummer Ginger Baker at age 73 may be the last of his kind still living today but he can still punch his drums (and anyone who sticks their nose too close to him) hard enough.

Five Questions with Jay Bulger:

1. Why Did Ginger punch you with his cane?
Ginger has separation anxiety issues. I was leaving. However, that’s just my opinion. He would probably say that I pushed him too far in the making of the film, which is also entirely true, and was necessary to get to the heart of the matter.

2. How is Ginger’s health (both mentally and physically)?
Ginger has been near death since he was in his 20’s. He’s now 73. He smokes 4 packs a day of Rothman Blues and takes copious amounts of morphine. He’s great, actually. He’s not human. Some type of Nosferatu thing going on there. Mentally, he’s wily and unpredictable as ever. Although, I must say that I haven’t spoken to him in a month or so…

3. Is Ginger happy with the film?
Ginger hasn’t watched the film. In his own words, “I lived it, so why the fuck do I need to watch it!” Which I find to be awesome and completely in tune with his character – not to be confused with “caricature.” He’s a righteous outlaw from another time. The genuine article.

4. What is Ginger’s plan now?
Ginger’s plan is to play music. He lives in England again, and that’s what he’s doing. Back on the road, where I truly believe that he belongs. He blew 5 million Cream Reunion money in 5 years. He has no other option. He’s still got it though, which is comforting.

5. What is your favorite part of the film?
I like the part where Ginger invites me to come live with him in South Africa. Ginger’s blind faith made me a journalist and a filmmaker. I’m still not entirely sure why he did so. All that I know is that he gifted me with this career as a journalist and a filmmaker, and I’ll always be thankful for that.

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