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Beware of Mr. Baker

By MATTHEW SINGER
In the first few minutes of Beware of Mr. Baker, the film’s subject, drummer Ginger Baker, is shown firing an Uzi, challenging anyone who doesn’t like him to a fight and jabbing the director in the nose with a cane. That about sets the tone. A jazz drummer who played with rock velocity, the ex-Cream member was born on the cusp of war and grew up in London with bombs detonating outside his window, which endeared him to the sound of explosions. “I love disasters,” he croaks. Appropriately, Jay Bulger’s film is a disaster movie disguised as a rock doc, with Baker as walking apocalypse. In his younger days, the musician’s crazed-junkie eyes, magma-red hair, scarecrow physique and permanent grin made him look like a cartoon interpretation of the devil, lending menace to his rolling-thunder solos. Now in his 70s, dead broke and jittery from osteoarthritis, his wild eyes narrowed into beads, he’s mostly just an old, angry son of a bitch. Although Bulger seems to admire his cantankerousness (his response to Baker nearly breaking his nose: “The madman is alive and well!”), he doesn’t romanticize it. Indeed, he casts a portrait that, under the scorched-earth performance footage and Steadman-esque animations, is actually quite sad. Baker isn’t particularly sympathetic—he has willfully abandoned or alienated everyone close to him, including his four wives and children—but, from a safe distance, he is wildly entertaining, leaning back in a recliner at his soon-to-be-foreclosed-on farm in South Africa, hurling irritated asides at Bulger, Mick Jagger, John Bonham and, especially, former bandmate Jack Bruce. Bulger tacks on the requisite triumphant postscript, but if there’s one thing this documentary teaches us about Baker, it’s that he’s never happy for long.
 
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  • Release Date: Tuesday, January 22, 2013
  • Critic's Score: A-
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