Beware of Mr. Baker

When a documentary begins with its subject using his crutch to deliver a vicious blow to the director's nose, it's reasonably safe to expect less-than-smooth sailing ahead.

With: Ginger Baker, Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, Steve Winwood, Charlie Watts, Mickey Hart, Carlos Santana, Max Weinberg, Chad Smith, Femi Kuti, Neal Peart, Stuart Copeland, Johnny Rotten.

When a documentary begins with its subject using his crutch to deliver a vicious blow to the director’s nose, it’s reasonably safe to expect less-than-smooth sailing ahead. And sure enough, the teasing possibility that other outbursts may disrupt the uneasy alliance between legendary drummer Ginger Baker and filmmaker Jay Bulger provides an underlying tension to the aptly titled “Beware of Mr. Baker.” Winner of the docu jury award at SXSW, this fascinating portrait of the aging rock god as an angry old coot could attract ticketbuyers as well as homevid renters and buyers after fest exposure.

“Beware of Mr. Baker” had its origins in a startlingly candid Rolling Stone interview Baker granted Bulger at the rock legend’s sprawling enclave in South Africa. (The entrance to the spread is marked by a sign bearing the warning that gives the pic its title.)

A physical wreck after decades of substance abuse and debilitating health issues, Baker nonetheless proved to be of sufficiently sound mind to share numerous anecdotes about his fleeting but enduringly memorable glory days with the supergroups Cream and Blind Faith, along with stories of his other colorful personal and professional misadventures throughout the world.

Popular on Variety

For the production of the docu, Bulger returned to Baker’s retreat, where the rock legend lives with his much younger African wife, her kids and 39 polo ponies. Throughout most of the oncamera interviews, Baker alternates between bemused introspection and acid sarcasm. Told that he is considered the father of punk rock, he snarls, “It should have been aborted.”

Baker is nothing if not forthcoming when discussing the exhilarating highs and dispiriting lows of a life journey that has taken him from scaling international pop charts and jamming with Afrobeat artist Fela Kuti to wallowing in debt, abandoning wives and children, and nearly killing himself with drugs. (At one point, he laughs but does not smile as he recalls hearing a radio news bulletin inaccurately, but plausibly, reporting his death.)

And while he’s willing to take full credit for his wide and lasting influence as a rock drummer — an influence acknowledged during Bulger’s interviews with such notables as Charlie Watts, Stuart Copeland and Johnny Rotten — Baker repeatedly indicates that, all things considered, he might have done better to stick to his first love, jazz.

Pic reveals that it was Bulger’s announced intention to conduct interviews with other folks — including Baker’s former bandmates, ex-wives and oft-estranged children — that triggered Baker’s crutch-wielding attack in the first place. But whatever suffering the filmmaker endured for his art paid off handsomely. The interviews with ex-Cream cohorts Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce are especially revelatory, particularly when Bulger intercuts contradictory accounts by Baker and Bruce of the same events.

“Beware of Mr. Baker” covers the 2005 Cream reunion concert at Royal Albert Hall — which, unsurprisingly, did not lead to Baker’s continued collaborations with Bruce and Clapton — and ends with the guardedly optimistic suggestion that, despite being hobbled by arthritis, Baker can still pound the skins in a manner dazzling enough to impress faithful fans.

On the other hand, Bulger leaves it to the audience to wonder: How much more could Baker have accomplished — how much might he still accomplish — if he weren’t his own worst enemy?

In addition to adroitly employing still photos and archival footage to complete his portrait of Baker, Bulger punctuates several scenes with portentous animated sequences that depict Baker as a drummer who sets the speed for slaves rowing an ancient ship. The symbolism isn’t clear (is Baker ever really in control?), but the imagery is striking.

Other tech values are first-rate, with the sound quality everything a Baker devotee could hope for.

Beware of Mr. Baker


Production: An Insurgent Media presentation of a Pugilist at Rest production. Produced by Andrew Karsch, Fisher Stevens, Erik H. Gordon, Jay Bulger. Executive producers, Andrew Karsch, Fisher Stevens, Erik H. Gordon. Co-producer, Alice Henty. Co-executive producers, Nancy Bulger, Nick Friedman, Trevor Kaufman, Alan Miller, Jonas Lauren Norr, Omar Soliman. Directed, written by Jay Bulger.

Crew: Camera (B&W/color, HD), Eric Robbins; editor, Abhay Sofsky; music supervisor, Susan Jacobs; sound, Dan Gleich, Gerd Jochum; supervising sound editor, Jacob Ribicoff; animation director/illustrator, David Bell. Reviewed at SXSW Film Festival (competing), March 14, 2012. Running time: 92 MIN.

Cast: With: Ginger Baker, Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, Steve Winwood, Charlie Watts, Mickey Hart, Carlos Santana, Max Weinberg, Chad Smith, Femi Kuti, Neal Peart, Stuart Copeland, Johnny Rotten.

More Scene

  • Logan Lerman Jordan Peele Al Pacino

    Al Pacino and Carol Kane Had a ‘Dog Day Afternoon’ Reunion on the ‘Hunters’ Set

    Nearly 45 years after Al Pacino and Carol Kane appeared in Sidney Lumet’s classic film “Dog Day Afternoon,” an Amazon Prime Video series about Nazi-hunters in 1977 New York City has brought them back together. Go figure. “I’m proud to be working with him again,” Kane told Variety at the “Hunters” premiere on Wednesday night [...]

  • Anya Taylor Joy Emma Premiere

    Anya Taylor-Joy on Playing Jane Austen's Clever, Callous Protagonist in 'Emma'

    It was an evening of elegance at the Los Angeles premiere of Focus Features’ “Emma” on Tuesday night. The red carpet was lined with pastel floral arrangements at the DGA Theater, priming visitors to be transported to the ornate pageantry of Georgian-era England, as depicted in this new adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic tale. Anya [...]

  • Tom Holland Chris Pratt Onward Premiere

    Tom Holland and Chris Pratt Show Off Real-Life Bond at Pixar's 'Onward' Premiere

    Pixar’s new movie “Onward” marks a reunion of sorts for Tom Holland and Chris Pratt. The two actors, who both have ties to Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe and most recently teamed in “Avengers: Endgame” as Spider-Man and Star-Lord, play brothers in the animated fantasy adventure. Their friendship has become a highlight of “Onward’s” promotional tour [...]

  • Da’Vine Joy Randolph

    Da’Vine Joy Randolph Praises Hulu's 'High Fidelity' for Telling a Realistic New York Story

    If HBO’s “Girls” characterized a certain type of young, disaffected millennial, fumbling cluelessly around a gentrifying Brooklyn, and if “Sex and the City” used Manhattan as a tantalizing playground for a class of well-connected, glamorous and decidedly 90s-bound women, both shows had one thing in common: they were painfully, inevitably white. “We’re gonna fix that!,” [...]

  • Harrison Ford Call of the Wild

    Why Harrison Ford Wanted to Play John Thornton in ‘The Call of the Wild’

    Joining legends like Charlton Heston and Clarke Gable, who have played the role of John Thornton in “The Call of the Wild,” Harrison Ford now stands next to a CGI-enhanced version of the dog named Buck in the latest adaptation of Jack London’s classic 1903 novel. “I thought the film has a lot to say [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content