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Saturday, 29 June 2013

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Beware Of Mr. Baker

Directed by: Jay Bulger

Produced by: Jay Bulger
Nick Friedman
Julie Goldman
Jeff Sanders
Omar Soliman

Screenplay by: Jay Bulger

Starring: Ginger Baker

Music by: Ginger Baker

Cinematography by: Eric Robbins

Editing by: Will Cox
Owen Rucker
Caitlin Tartaro

Studio: Insurgent Media

Distributed by: SnagFilms (United States)
Artificial Eye (United Kingdom)

Release date(s): November 28, 2012 (United States; limited release)
May 17, 2013 (United Kingdom/Ireland)

Running time: 100 mins

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: N/A

Box office revenue (as of publication): $116, 476 (Domestic Gross only)

Ahoy there strangers, me again. Although things have admittedly slowed up over the past couple of weeks (Lord knows, other aspects of my life have been rather busy), I have been continuing to watch movies, and following this review, expect one's to come up for Star Trek Into Darkness and After Earth. Before we get started, I wish to dedicate this next review to the memory of James Gandolfini. In case you don't know, I'm also someone who watches certain television series', and right at the top of that is The Sopranos. I only just recently finished re-watching the show, and while it is certainly an ensemble effort and the series has a terrific writing team and crew, it was Gandolfini's Tony Soprano who was the apex, and the physical embodiment of everything that is good about The Sopranos. A magnetic screen presence, behind his hulking and intimidating frame lay a gentle soul with a twinkle in his eye, and when he smiled the way only he could, you just wanted to reach and give him a big bearhug. My thoughts go out to his family members, whose grief I cannot possibly fathom to imagine. Rest In Peace, big man!

So, with no stone being left unturned, let's get down to this. Today's review is on Beware Of Mr. Baker, the title of the picture being a reference to the sign that confronts a visitor upon entering the residence of one Mr. Baker. Namely, the legendary Ginger Baker, widely considered to be one of the greatest rock drummers of all time, though he himself (as explored in the film) contends with that label, seeing himself as following the tradition of jazz drumming, and taking in the influence of African music and rhythms. Sometimes preceding his artistry (not unlike the great Oliver Reed), however, are the tales of excess and debauchery during the peak of his fame, which created an aura around him as a bit of a rock 'n roll wild man. Director Jay Bulger, having wrote an article for Rolling Stone on Baker (The Devil and Ginger Baker), uses his established rapport to develop this documentary on the man, who lives in South Africa with his fourth wife. Right, synopsis sorted!

Starting off with the good regarding the film, much of it's strengths derive from the subject himself. Ginger Baker is a legendary figure in music before you even approach him from a documentarian standpoint, and from this position the legend only continues to grow. One of the most unpredictably entertaining interview subjects in a film for quite a while, Baker regularly shows disdain for the set format. Poor Jay Bulger has to ask the questions, and often gets an expletive-laden retort for his troubles. Indeed, the film opens with Baker attacking the filmmaker with his cane over Bulger's intentions to interview those who knew the man. Baker has many brilliant stories to tell, and serves as an appropriately well-informed narrator to his own tale. Also, now in his seventies, Baker's voice has a world-weary quality that gives the film a sense of legitimacy and despite being from London, he has enough of his own personal twang to make the view continue to listen to what he's saying. The film is really at it's best moments when Bulger embraces Baker's contradictions and the fact that the man is essentially in a constant conflict with himself. Despite his being, for all intents and purposes, a horrible man to his family and friends, the refusal to judge this man and view him objectively is to the film's credit. Furthermore, having this conflict gives moments when Baker reminisces about his favourite drummers and about his feeling more akin to his horses and than other humans gives him (and the film) a true sense of pathos. It's a very entertaining movie at times, but most especially when we are being told a straight story with the eponymous Mr. Baker at the centre.

Now, while the film does not contain enough problems to severely irritate me, there are problems that inhabit the film nevertheless. As mentioned, the film at it's best when a straight story is being told. However, there are certain times in which the film begins to show traits that seem to be inherent in a lot of postmodern cinema. The methods used to tell the larger picture, however, are too multitudinous and do not contribute anything to the film. For instance, the pop art by way of printing press presentation of the Mormon Sex In Chains case covered in Errol Morris' Tabloid may have fit that film, but here, some methods (particularly the animation sequences) go into overkill. What this needs to be is along the lines of Capturing The Friedmans or Gimme Shelter, not This Film Is Not Yet Rated. Ginger Baker is a large and engaging enough figure without the need for him to be dressed up with all these extra frills. This is a problem that, while not necessarily damning a film, has become inherent in recent documentaries, which have this second-nature obsessiveness with transgressive Baudrillard post-modernity. While (as mentioned) not condemning the film, this is the issue at the root of the problems that permeate the film.

In short, Beware Of Mr. Baker is a film that is at times as troubled as it's subject. However, it's troubles come not from the subject, but from issues to do with the methods used to approach it. Methodological research would show that, theoretically speaking, Beware Of Mr. Baker is not a unified, cohesive piece, but instead inappropriately scatterbrained. Nevertheless, even with the issue(s), it is, at it's best, a fascinating, objective portrait of a conflicted man. Baker is never anything less than thoroughly engaging, and he makes for one of the most interesting interviewees I have seen as the subject of a documentary film for quite some time. Although it has flaws, Bulger seems to also recognise the good material, and when Beware Of Mr. Baker tells a straight story of the sign entering the estate of the namesake, it flourishes.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 6.8/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - "Anyone got a compass?" (I need to get my bearings)

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