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Movie review: Ginger Baker is Cream of a mad crop

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Entertainment,Movies,Kelly Jane Torrance

As jaw-dropping as Ginger Baker's drumming is, the man himself is even more rattling.

Seconds after the musical introduction, we hear Baker ranting at the filmmaker, angry that he plans to include in his documentary people Baker used to know and would rather forget. The musician, now 73, starts shaking his cane at Jay Bulger, now barely in his 30s.

We eventually hear Baker make a very different sound from that with which we associate him: a crack. The camera turns to Bulger, whose nose is dripping blood.

Ginger Baker was always the coolest-looking guy in the bands to which he belonged. That's saying a lot, given he played in Cream, with Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce, and Blind Faith, with Clapton, Steve Winwood and Ric Grech.

On screen
'Beware of Mr. Baker'
3 out of 4 stars
Stars: Ginger Baker
Director: Jay Bulger
Rated: Not rated
Running time: 92 minutes

He was also the craziest-looking.

"He's a rogue. A lovable rogue," Clapton says here. That's the tamest statement we hear about the rock legend. "The devil takes care of its own, yes," says of one his ex-wives. "Redheaded madman," someone else declares.

He's also, quite possibly, the greatest drummer of the rock era -- and maybe even beyond. Which explains, in part, why such a terrible man still has so many fans (if not friends) and is on his fourth wife.

Bulger, a Washington native and former boxer, gave Baker a call at the drummer's South African compound. "I told him I was a writer for Rolling Stone magazine, which was a total lie." He lived with Baker briefly and eventually did write a piece for Rolling Stone, "The Devil and Ginger Baker," which was the first step to making this highly entertaining and revealing film.

Baker wound up in South Africa after getting kicked out of a few other countries. He's certainly not a man who likes authority -- or possibly even other human beings. Bulger coaxes Baker to tell us how he got there. "I was considered a troublemaker, a smartass," he says of his early teenage years, surprising absolutely no one. He served as a decoy for shoplifting friends in a record store, until one day listening to records in the booth to distract the sales staff he came upon "Quintet of the Year," with Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Max Roach and Charles Mingus.

Around the same time his career took shape, so did his personality. His father, who died in the First World War, had written a letter for Baker to open when he turned 14. "Be a man at all times," his father told him from the grave. "Use your fists, they're your best pals so often." As his sister says, "It's the Baker temper. I've learned to control it, but he hasn't."

Baker can't really explain how this troublemaker turned into a jazz drummer, and then a rock legend. "It's a gift from God, Jay. You've either got it or you haven't. I had it." What is "it," Bulger asks. "Time. Natural time."

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