When 2012 gets to be further in our collective rear view mirror, it may very well go down as one of this generation’s strongest 12 months in the world of non-fiction filmmaking. With new features from everyone ranging from Fredrick Wiseman to Steve James (both of whom were once again at the top of their games this year), this year has become a treasure trove for those looking to dig into real stories of real people and topics ranging from masculinity (Mansome) to ballet (First Position).
However, any collection of documentaries wouldn’t be without the classic fall from grace tale of a person who at once at had it all, only to lose it in the blink of an eye. Now, while it is admittedly a clichéd style of documentary, very few have the type of central figure as the wonderfully lively Beware Of Mr. Baker.
Directed by music nut turned journalist turned filmmaker Jay Bulger, this energetic and thought provoking documentary looks at the life of the reclusive musical legend Ginger Baker, and all that comes with the man, the myth and the unbelievable legend. Bet known as the drummer for super group Cream, Baker is considered by many to be his generation’s foremost drummers, and one of the greatest jazz-influenced percussionists to ever rock this planet.
But with that genius has come a troubled life. With Cream’s supernova flame out, and a passion for any type of illicit substance, Baker broke the mold as a rock drummer, but has fallen directly into the mold of an aging rock star unable to let himself settle down. Featuring interviews with the likes of his Cream cohort Eric Clapton, Lars Ulrich and the various wives Baker has had, this entertaining and truly sad documentary is an ode to a man who is unwilling to ever take his foot of the gas, even if it means driving his life off the proverbial cliff.
Baker is a true force of nature. To the real world what Animal is to The Muppets, the fire-haired percussionist has energy coursing through his veins when behind the drums, and a distinctly dark sense of melancholy when taken away from this home. Never one to take a break, you feel for this man as his inability to find a permanent home feels deeply rooted. The sequences of archival footage finding him behind the drums in his heyday give light to a man who is only at home when movingly banging away at his drums. There is a look in the eyes of Baker when he plays that you do not see in the man today, or in the man, frankly, at any other time. He both looks completely at ease, and also almost overcome with joy. Given the chance to play with some of the most influential musicians of all time, ranging from Eric Clapton to Fela Kuti, you not only become privy to the brilliant career of Ginger Baker, but you also see that he has his stamp alongside some of the most iconic artists of his day, and with many of them coming on screen to talk about his brilliance, there is a moving sense of history within this document of a living legend’s story.
Cinematically, the film is superb. The interviews are intriguing, but it’s the archival footage that one will be talking about after viewing the film. Truly thrilling, the viewer gets the chance to see this legend not only at work, but vicariously finds themselves in the middle of one of the most influential careers in music. There are sequences of Cream performances that are thrilling, and the Fela Kuti set piece may be one of the most engaging bits of music-focused non-fiction filmmaking 2012 has to offer. It does meander a tad bit, and it feels slightly over long, but when the biggest issue one has is that one gets to spend too much time partaking in the life of a musical icon, it’s nitpicking.
Overall, while the film feels less ‘important’ than many of its 2012 documentary brethren (especially when films like The Invisible War are making impacts outside of film), there has to be something said for a documentary with the power to not only inform one about a forgotten legend, but do so in the most thrilling and vital way possible, and that film is Beware Of Mr. Baker. Featuring fantastic archival footage and insightful interviews, Baker is yet another fantastic documentary from a year chockfull of them.