There is a tendency among documentary filmmakers these days – perhaps the cumulative effect of Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock – to insert themselves into their work, forcing personal narrative onto a subject that has little or nothing to do with them.
Perhaps the most prominent example is Paul Williams: Still Alive. But there have been countless others over the past few years, including: Finding John Hughes, Winnebago Man, Resurrect Dead, and You’ve Been Trumped. The recurring problem with this approach is that the person directing each film isn’t nearly as interesting as the person or subject he or she has been chronicling.
Herein lies the central issue with Beware of Mr. Baker – a fascinating (albeit mired) documentary about the life and times of legendary drummer Ginger Baker. The film wastes a good 15 minutes or so at the outset dawdling about in unnecessary back story. By the time its first real beat kicks in, Beware has already lost the better part of its audience, having forced viewers to endure a rambling prologue, accompanied by an absolutely frivolous intro courtesy of the Sex Pistols’ Johnny Rotten.
It’s baffling, quite frankly. And it certainly isn’t for want of material.
Beware features extensive on-screen interviews with a who’s who of kick-ass drummers, including (but not limited to): Charlie Watts, Lars Ulrich, Nick Mason, Stewart Copeland, Mickey Hart, Chad Smith … in addition to Baker’s one-time band mates Jack Bruce, Eric Clapton, and Steve Winwood. Combine that with the fact you’ve got full access to the modern-day Baker, as well as five decades worth of archival footage, and the question one inevitably keeps coming back to is, “Why on earth not just play the goddamned story as it lays?”
Unfortunately, that’s one of several questions Jay Bulger’s documentary completely fails to address.