Beware Of Mr. Baker received the Grand Jury prize for best documentary at SXSW’s 2012 Film Festival last month. It’s an entertaining bio doc about Ginger Baker, perhaps best known as the jazz-rock drummer of the 60’s rock supergroups Cream and Blind Faith.
Jay Bulger, the film’s director, lied his way into the life of the notoriously cantankerous and now reclusive Baker, now 72, telling him he was writing a piece for Rolling Stone magazine. In a twist, the piece became real — “The Devil and Ginger Baker” was published in Rolling Stone, after Bulger lived embedded with Baker in his South African home, which does, in fact, have a sign out front that reads “Beware of Mr. Baker.”
The article provided Bulger an opportunity to create a next piece, a documentary that captures the chaos, humor and turmoil that surround Baker. The film, which had its world premiere at SXSW 2012, begins at the end, with Baker braking Bulger’s nose with his walking stick.
How is your relationship with Mr. Baker these days?
Jay Bulger, director of Beware of Mr. Baker: We talk about once every week or two. Sometimes for a while. Sometimes he just hangs up when he hears my voice. Depends on the time of day, his drug intake, and the current state of affairs. He’s much easier to talk to when there is drama, because he likes to have someone to talk to about them, whether it be suing the African Bank or relationship issues.
He can be quite a sensitive person, actually. I’m sure that if I knew more about horses, we could talk more. But for me, I just like to leave things on a good note and call when there is good news. I don’t like bothering him. He said, “Good job” about winning SXSW.
Ginger Baker has a reputation for living a chaotic lifestyle. Did you have any hesitation about writing about him or filming him?
What drew me in was the fact that if he was less chaotic and had a better reputation, not only would the music most likely have sounded much different, but some safe documentary filmmaker would already have made it. When I heard that he was at the end of the world, forgotten, that he had burned through so many bridges, I thought, “Now he’s ready to talk.”
He knows how great his story is, and he wanted to tell it. On a personal basis, I am attracted to people who reside in obscurity, who are at the end of their life, who are misunderstood, because they have the best stories. More importantly, I knew that being around him was going to be completely unpredictable and fun.
Was there a plan going in?
There was no plan. I called him up on the phone because he sounded like the most fascinating character I had ever come across. We spoke for many hours, and then one day he said, “Just come here! I have bad hearing!” And I said, “Where am I going to stay?” And he said, “With me, you idiot!” So I borrowed a camera and some money and just went there. I’m not big on planning. When Ginger Baker asks you to come live with him, there is no time for planning. It was an opportunity of a lifetime. I knew that while I would be in debt, I would at least have that experience. I always wanted to make a film, but the reality of such happened over time, after writing the Rolling Stone article, raising funds, etc. It took me two years to get back there.
In the documentary, you show pieces of interviews with a number of music icons from Baker’s life, including Eric Clapton, Carlos Santana, Johnny Rotten among many. Did you have any difficulty getting them to open up about Ginger Baker and their relationships with him?
Everyone was incredibly helpful and receptive and honored to be a part of such an important story. No difficulties whatsoever. Well, Johnny Rotten did insist that we finish a case of beer before beginning the interview, which made it a bit more difficult to formulate my thoughts. More fun though!
Does Ginger Baker have any plans to help support the film?
I wouldn’t expect or ask him to do anything he didn’t want to do as I know he hates going so many hours on the plane without a smoke, so I’ve got to make it worth his while.
I know he’s had visa problems and financial difficulties lately. Has his financial situation improved at all since the film was finished?
No. He’s blown everything — didn’t expect to live long enough to spend it. But in his own words, “God is punishing me for my past wickedness by keeping me alive and in as much pain as he can!” Ha! That’s his life story.
Beware of Mr. Baker continues its festival run, with screenings continuing later this month at Hot Docs and Independent Film Festival Boston. Find out more about the film on its official site and on Facebook.