★★★★☆A wildly entertaining and well-drawn portrait of one of music's most tempestuous figures, first-time director Jay Bulger's vivid rockumentary Beware of Mr. Baker (2012) drops off the festival circuit and into UK cinemas this week thanks to Curzon Film World. Whilst it may struggle to appeal to the same crossover audiences that fell for Malik Bendjelloul's Oscar-winning Searching for Sugarman last year, for anyone even remotely interested in the enigmatic man, his various short-lived musical collaborations or the British jazz-rock scene of the 1950s-70s, Bulger's even-handed exposé floats like a butterfly and stings like a Baker.
What does comes as a surprise, however, is the fact that despite the magnetic presence of Ginger and the bolshy, bravado interview style of Bulger (a former boxer, no less), Beware of Mr. Baker's real star is deputising feature editor Abhay Sofsky. Weaving together starry talking head interviews with electrifying archive footage and expressive (if slightly out of place) animation into one coherent whole is no mean feat, and Sofsky's inaugural project fully deserves comparison with Chris King/Gregers Sall's sterling work on Asif Kapadia's award-winning Senna (2010).
A deceptively unconventional rock 'n' roll tale of drink, drugs, drums and ponies (Baker was a key figure on the Nigerian polo scene, believe it or not), Bulger's Beware of Mr. Baker saddens as much as it elates. Undeniably one of the greatest talents of his generation, Baker's appetite for self-destruction ultimately led to a nomadic existence, changing bands and countries as often almost as his extravagant attire. What we're left with are a series of distant, semi-lucid memories of a life less ordinary, now unfortunately replaced by bitterness, anger and Ginger's own highly rational fear of losing grip on those last remaining shreds of dignity.