A scene from "Beware of Mr. Baker." (Handout )
Talk about a long, strange trip. Such is the journey of legendary drummer Ginger Baker, whose outsized life in — and often out of — rock and jazz music's most vaunted circles is deftly chronicled in the entertaining documentary "Beware of Mr. Baker."
Writer-director Jay Bulger combines warts-heavy interview footage of Baker with vivid archival bits, concert clips, jaunty animation and chats with various musical greats to paint a lively portrait of yet another brilliant but wildly self-destructive artist.
The film tracks Baker's early days as a scrappy English teen inspired by African drum rhythms to his membership in classic 1960s bands Cream and Blind Faith and later stints with Ginger Baker's Air Force and Masters of Reality. Stops en route — and beyond — included four wives, endless groupies, an addiction to heroin and, of all things, polo, and a six-year stay in Nigeria (he played extensively there with late musical pioneer and activist Fela Kuti).
He eventually settled in South Africa, where Bulger's cameras captured Baker, now an arthritic 73, in all his abrasive, iconoclastic glory.
Baker collaborators and observers such as Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, Steve Winwood, Charlie Watts, Stewart Copeland and Johnny "Rotten" Lydon also weigh in on the influential drummer, as do Baker's kids, sister and ex-wives. The takeaway: great musician, deficient family man, taxing friend and bandmate, excellent documentary subject.
"Beware of Mr. Baker." No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes. At the Downtown Independent, Los Angeles.