For those who have walked to the beat of Cream, Blind Faith, or the Graham Bond Organisation, Beware of Mr Baker is a nostalgic warts-n-all look back at a hedonistic superstar who set a benchmark rarely matched to this day. For the uninitiated amongst us, this is an education on the genesis of modern sound. More intriguingly, a look at a character who demands immediate attention; for he is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. The Gallagher Brothers, eat your heart out.
Even those reluctant to watch another talking heads music doc about an eccentric madman should know this; Jay Bulger’s documentary begins with the filmmaker, having spent an extended amount of time living with his subject on his South African farm, being whacked in the face and given a bloody nose by the elderly hellraiser. Attention is well and truly demanded.
Hardly the most groundbreaking documentary, Bulger seems to accept that Baker’s story doesn’t need much embellishing; the music is the subject, and there are enough talking heads on display – Eric Clapton, John Lydon, Jack Bruce – that he’s never found wanting for anecdotes about group sex, drug use, or band make-ups and break-ups. So it’s simply a case of editing it into one cohesive series of events.
That’s not to say that he doesn’t add his own DNA to the film. Bulger’s relationship with Baker offers up some of the documentary’s most memorable moments, often due to Baker’s sudden disdain for the way in which the young filmmaker has asked a question, prompting a profanity or gesture. It’s both funny and touching; especially in light of the revelations about Baker’s own, seemingly estranged children, and the way in which he clearly loves them, despite a flash-point having driven them away.
He’s clearly a spontaneous, instinctive man, a trait that must be synonymous with someone who can play the drums the way he does, (the most recent performance footage belies his state as a weak, suffering man) but it’s also his biggest burden. Snap decisions to import dozens of horses to his ranch, or move to Lagos and set-up a recording studio for the people whose music had triggered Baker’s musical epiphany, that or the heroin intravenously injected into his arm, all backfire, leaving Ginger’s life as something of a skipping record, constantly needing to be reset.
Stylistically, Bulger does use a series of animated sequences in place of reconstructions, and their Banksy style anarchistic look is brilliantly evocative of the sequences that he wants to recreate.
But he must be well aware that he didn’t have to do much more than pointing and filming this part-time polo player, part-time junkie, full-time unrestrained genius.
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