Documentary Site started as an outlet for my interests in documentary 15 years ago. Since then, my presence has expanded to writing, managing Twitter fans, and connecting with makers, promoters, and fans of documentary. Probably three of the coolest things to come from this endeavor are being invited to write for POV, visiting Kartemquin studios, and leading a discussion after a screening of The Trials of Muhammad Ali. My current project involves watching and writing about 365 documentaries in 2014. Feel free to send along your suggestions via Twitter @documentarysite!

#365Docs: Beware of Mr. Baker (55/365)

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I’m watching 365 documentaries and writing about each one in 2014. Tweet your suggestions to @documentarysite, or send an e-mail to hmcintosh@documentarysite.com. Read more.

Note: This post may contain spoilers.

Beware of Mr. Baker (2012) opens with iconic drummer Ginger Baker whacking filmmaker Jay Bulger across the face with a cane for wanting to include interviews with other people in the film. This scene sets up their somewhat contentious relationship and Baker’s difficult personality.

Bulger’s documentary is a biopic of Baker and his uneven career despite his brilliance in drumming. Bulger frames the documentary through his discovering Baker’s story, writing about it, and then going back for the bigger picture. While Bulger’s presence remains a key part, it is Baker who dominates the extended interviews and archival footage.

Baker is a difficult subject to interview. Bulger asks simple questions, and while Baker retaliates by telling him to read the book, Bulger stands his ground. Throughout, Baker unleashes middle-finger gestures and insults at Bulger’s questions, many of which I cannot quote here because of their fun phrases. But just as he insults his interviewer, Baker also answers many questions about his life at length.

Undeterred by the cane across the face, Bulger gathers an array of interviews, both personal and celebrity, to round out the story. The celebrities are a who’s who of music: Eric Clapton, Johnny Rotten, Charlie Watts, Jack Bruce, Steve Winwood, Stewart Copeland, and Carlos Santana. All of them express a deep admiration for Baker’s drumming, which crosses genres of both Western jazz and rock and African music.

Extensive archival footage shows that these performers’ admiration for Baker is warranted. Baker plays like he has double the appendages most of us have, with the complexity of rhythms that are almost ear-defying.

Despite immense talent and perfect time, Baker never saw sustained career heights. Most bands were short-lived due to interpersonal conflicts and drug use. Baker played with Fela Kuti during his time in Africa but was ostracized from the group for taking up polo.

Baker married young and multiple times, and moved from country to country. He has three children. Bulger interviews some of the former spouses and children. One of them thinks he never should have had kids.

Beware of Mr. Baker ends with Baker playing and touring again because the financial situation forced him to sell his horses, farm, and Range Rover.

Bulger makes some attempts at making this piece visually interesting with the split screens and editing transitions. The opening interview with Johnny Rotten is intruiging and disorienting at the same time. These techniques appear only once in a while, but it would have been interesting to see them more consistently throughout. Stylized animations illustrate more difficult parts of the story, such as Baker’s getting beaten up as child.

Chances are, you won’t like Baker as a person at the end of this documentary, which isn’t the point, but you may come to appreciate the brilliance of his drumming.

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Heather McIntosh
Heather McIntosh
Heather McIntosh started Documentary Site as a resource for documentary media and has greatly enjoyed the connections it has fostered over the years.
  • Linda Rhodes

    Thank you so much for this moving documentary and allowing us to share the heart wrenching feelings of these two women. I think the final message points out the need for more complete education about the holocaust and the effect on every person living at that time… and for future generations as well.

  • Mary C Bennett

    Dear Monika and Helen, Thank you both for your incredible courage in facing this most painful chapter in your lives and being open to discuss it with each other and share it with the world. I lived in Germany for 23 years and have many friends there, all of whom were either born after the war or were very small children during the Holocaust. I often ask myself, “How could these terrible things happen in a country that produced Beethoven, Brahms, Schiller, Goethe, and so many other giants of music and literature?” I think the answer is that we must always be on our guard, as prejudice is a deadly disease that never dies. We cannot kill it and must be ever watchful that it does not get the upper hand again. Your story is a powerful weapon against this disease, and Mr. Moll has done an excellent job of bringing it to the screen. Thank you all from my heart.

  • Drogan4

    This movie is for all of us.No matter where we have been or where we go.This movie is for all our children and every generation.May we never forget.
    Thank you both for your intense bravery. It is not in vain.

  • Andrew

    This is probably the most important and moving documentary I have ever seen. I discovered it by accident on PBS on a Sunday morning.

    Dear Monika and Helen

    You are both amazingly brave women. I hope you are both doing well. I hope you keep a relationship with each other and find a friend in each other. Helen, you have to separate Monika from her parents’ wrong doings and help her separate herself from them. She will in turn help you heal. The two of you need each other. Monika, you have to comfort Helen and help her know you as Monika, not Amon’s daughter.

    I wish you both the best and I hope you support each other! You have the foundation and opportunity for a beautiful friendship. This is your chance to prove how strong you are. You can both overcome your pasts. You are both very special people and treasures of our global community!

    You will forever be in my heart

    Andrew Patterson
    Davenport, Iowa USA

    • Bfilomia

      I agree with you, but I don’t think that they have talk  to each other since the visit to Krakow, what a shame because Helen  inspire the perdon that must people are looking and don’t get. 

  • Brenlunsford

    Dear Helen and Monika, you are both remarkable women. I really was glad to see the side of the story from Monika’s view and how Helen so gracefully and honesty responded. Through the years I have read many books and articles on the camps and plight of the Jewish people, it has always been heart wrenching for me. This really touched me, to see Monika so sad, and Helen so wanting to tell her story, but holding back (I think) but beeing the compashonate person she is, held back, sencing Monika’s confusion and pain. I hold you both in my heart, and pray for your futures.

    God Bless you both Brenda

  • Bren

    OH I forgot spell check, sorry all of you who feel the need to make corrections!

  • Barbara Gray

    Thank you for making this very important documentary!

    Monika, so fragile and sweet and ridden with the disgrace of her father. Monika, you were just as much his victim as was Helen. Yes, in different ways, yet still an innocent victim. Do not view him as your father – believe instead that you are an innocent child of God…because you really are. 

    Monika and Helen, both so good and kind and brave to courageously relive all the horrors in order to tell their stories, both to each other and to the rest of us. Prayers, blessings, and much peace to you both.