Monday, January 14, 2013

GInger Baker Revealed in New Doc. and It Ain't Pretty

Beware of Mr. Baker
@Bloor Hot Docs January 18 – 31
The Bloor Hot Docs Cinema 506 Bloor Street West (Bloor & Bathurst)
Some consider Ginger Baker to be the world's greatest living drummer.  His jazz rock brew is a heady one. Baker was experimental, progressive, and unwavering in his thirst for musical knowledge.  After fifty years he remains one of rock’s most colourful characters and one of its strangest.  The red haired, hollow-cheeked demon who drove Cream, Blind Faith, Masters of Reality and other bands with stunning drum work is the subject of a new documentary by Jay Bulger.  Strange on toast for the fans.

For everything he has achieved in music, in both jazz and rock milieus, Baker today is a loner, a bitter ex junkie with plenty of grudges who craves isolation, horses and guns and says exactly whatever comes into his mind.   He isn’t afraid to use his cane or fists in venting anger.  Bulger’s brave, on a mission to celebrate the man, the myth and the crazy who seems to know what he’s in for, but dives in anyway.  It’s a fascinating ride especially for those who felt the impact of Cream and Blind Faith when they hit.

Baker’s life is extraordinary, first because he has survived heroin, the drug he began using in his mid-teens.  But most impressively, he has survived emotional extremes that woulkdflatten anyone else, geographical and lifestyle extremes and wild swings from wealth to abject poverty and back again many times.  Baker as seen in the doc is an especially difficult person who seems to be calm because age and ill health keep him more or less still.

Difficult seems such a mild word to describe Baker.  In an unforgettable scene, Bulger and Baker are this far apart screaming into each other’s faces, hardly the expected behaviour between a documentarian and his subject.  You see, Baker had beaten Bulger with his cane and drawn blood.  Bulger was demanding an apology that would never come.

It’s as though Bulger didn’t know what he was up against.  He could have been as easily shot as wounded.  Well, Bulger lives.  And his story of Ginger Baker, the oddest duck from the British invasion of America, is here for us all to drink up.   At 73, Baker has not mellowed but you can’t help but think was thrilled to receive the notice of a filmmaker and potentially new fans.  He lives on an armored gated ranch in Africa, if he hasn’t abandoned that by now as well.

The films music is terrific. The early nostalgia-heavy White Room, Sunshine of Your Love, his introduction to Fela Kuti’s deep and disturbing vibe, and his musical forays into progressive bands that ultimately fired him, and interesting collaborations remind us of that raw power he has, to express himself through indescribably moving drumming.

Baker is a polo and horse fanatic with the unique skill of staying on a horse no matter what.  He’s on his fourth wife, and they have all been beautiful, strong women.  He abandoned his own children in favour of step children.  He lived in an empty shed in rural Italy once with seven dogs and bunch of horses and nothing else.  Top and bottom many times over.

Baker attracts people and repels them at the same time.  He has unsteady relationships with his early band members from Cream and Blind Faith who admit they're frightened of him.  Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce say they love him but don’t keep in touch because he’s too much.

Bulger uses brilliant animated sequences fill in the more violent episodes in Baker’s life as well as his disappointments, loneliness and childhood traumas. It traces the history of the heavy, repetitive rat-a-tat that fed his drum fever, the sounds of bombs dropping over London when he was a little boy. Its heady stuff. And Baker won’t talk about it in a personal way without taking his dark glasses off. So Bulger illustrates. His Baker is a drummer on a slave ship, he’s bloodied and everywhere he goes, fires erupt.

Baker’s life appears to remain unstable.  His reward for having made wonderful sounds for more than fifty years, having been admired and copied by almost every heavy metal drummer is life in isolation, waiting for the money to run out, far from all the people and things that made his life wonderful and unbearable.   It’s unclear what lies ahead. 

BEWARE OF MR. BAKER screening dates and times at Bloor Hot Docs Cinema:
Friday, January 18 4:15 p.m., 9:00 p.m.
Saturday, January 19 1:00 p.m., 6:30 p.m.
Sunday, January 20 9:00 p.m.
Monday, January 21 6:45 p.m.
Tuesday, January 22 9:00 p.m.
Wednesday, January 23 9:00 p.m.
Friday, January 25 9:00 p.m.
Saturday, January 26 4:30 p.m., 9:15 p.m.
Sunday, January 27 6:45 p.m.
Tuesday, January 29 6:45 p.m.
Wednesday, January 30 9:00 p.m.
Thursday, January 31 9:00 p.m.

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