"He had time" is the finest compliment the drummer Ginger Baker can give.
Jay Bulger, an opportunistic journalist, may not have that. But Baker gave him lots of his time when Bulger pitched first a magazine profile of the reclusive percussionist, then a documentary film project. And as Bulger discovered and we see in the film's opening moments, when Baker disapprovingly smacks the filmmaker in the nose with his cane, some people are recluses with good reason.
Ginger Baker has spent a lifetime wearing out bandmates, lovers and nations of residence with his manic ways and ill temper.
Take that sign at the entrance to his South African compound seriously: "Beware of Mr. Baker."
Taking his cue from a 1970s documentary, "Ginger Baker in Africa" (about Baker's first trip to Africa, when he visited the source of his Africanized rhythms and set up a recording studio in Lagos, Nigeria), Bulger uses music and animation, interviews and studio sessions to paint a portrait of a man whom drummer after drummer, from Charlie Watts to Lars Ulrich, Carmine Appice to Mickey Hart, describe in awed terms.
Bulger hangs with the man, living with him for stretches, to get past the swagger, the bravado and the bombast to allow Baker to recall the rhythm of German bombs hitting his corner of London as a child. We hear Baker describe his influences - the same British jazz drummer who taught him African beats also exposed him to heroin for the first time.
With the aid of animation, we see the various places Ginger has lived - pushed out here, lured over there. Years in Nigeria, in Italy, in Southern California, in South Africa - always doing something interesting, never quite fitting in or wanting to fit in.
And Bulger lets the man expound on his art, describing the bolero he concocted for Cream's "White Room," the complicated time signatures he brought to a string of lesser known but legendary ensembles in the years since.
Baker gets teary-eyed over his "true friend" Eric Clapton, who later declares that he was horrified when Baker, whom Clapton had tried to escape when he bailed out of Cream, elbowed his way into Clapton's next group, Blind Faith. Baker's earlier wives are bemused witnesses to his lunacy, his latest African wife simply resigned to her fate.
But perhaps only the equally unpleasant Johnny Rotten ("The Sex Pistols") can truly appreciate the man in full. If he's crazy, if he's a diva, rude, bullying, Rotten says, the ends justify the means: Look at what "the indomitable" Ginger Baker produced.
Beware of Mr. Baker
• Not rated, with profanity, violence, substance abuse
• Director: Jay Bulger.
• Cast: Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce, Eric Clapton, Femi Kuti, Johnny Rotten.
• Running time: 100 minutes.