Director: Jay Bulger
Cast: Ginger Baker, Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, Lars Ulrich, Neal Peart
Running Time: 93 mins
Release Date: May 17
Jay Bulger is a documentarian, journalist, music video director and rock fan. Discovering via a court report from South Africa that Ginger Baker was still alive and kicking, he set out to write an article on the legendary drummer of Cream, Blind Faith, Blues Incorporated and numerous other elements of musical royalty.
Often credited as a founder of everything from prog rock to metal, Peter Baker was born less than two weeks before the start of World War II, a conflict that would claim the life of his father. Baker possesses that most elusive of traits; raw musical talent. Over the course of the film he consistently references ‘natural time’, and those who have it, himself included. Only loosely interested in his personal life, the film is more concerned with his skill, influences and legacy.
That’s the key word here; legacy. Like most impressive words it’s grossly overused, but here it’s entirely applicable. Whether you think Cream were transgressive geniuses who created a new genre or purveyors of the most turgid shite imaginable, you can’t deny their influence, nor that of Baker. The musicians featured (including the always punchable Lars Ulrich) are all either huge fans or previous collaborators, and often both. The consensus seems to be that Baker took the technical ability of the Jazz drummers he wanted to emulate and found a way (or forced one) of working it into rock music, which was almost done leaving the roll behind. As is made clear, Baker would loathe this interpretation as ‘you can’t put music in a fuckin’ box mate!’
Though his influence is nigh incalculable, the restitution he received was not always in line with that legacy, and these dire financial straits form the main narrative alongside a traditional A to B to C life story. Going from London to America to Africa to Italy then back to Africa, the film zips along nicely while allowing for some interesting insights and genuinely hilarious anecdotes (one about Mick Jagger stands out, if only for how bitter Baker sounds), all tied together with some beautifully stylised animated sequences, even if the sound design of these sequences is a little trite.
Bulger also avoids pulling punches when documenting the life of a man who refuses to compromise, often to the detriment of his image. Baker seems to have pissed off almost everyone who has ever known him, so a purely worshipful documentary would’ve been rather difficult to pull off, but trying to be honest about someone he so clearly admires is still to Bulger’s credit.
At an hour and forty minutes the film is a little too long and a biopic about a still living subject is always problematic as there’s no conclusive end, but ultimately your enjoyment will hinge on how much you care about Baker. If you already know who he is, you probably already want to see this documentary, so bizzare is its subject. If you’re unaware of the insane visual hybrid of Luke Kelly and The Joker that is Ginger, he’s a fascinating study, even in an introductory sense.