Sunday, August 12, 2012

JIMFF 2012 - Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet (USA, 2012)

Part of MKC's coverage of the Jecheon Intl. Music & Film Festival.

When director Jesse Vile presented his film ahead of its screening he asked how many people were already familiar with legendary guitarist Jason Becker. I was part of the majority that was not and as a longtime axeman myself I am little ashamed of this fact. However, I’m very glad that I now know who he is.

Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet follows the life of a young guitarist, a progeny who took the guitar world by storm in the early 1990s but only for the briefest of times. Following his huge break, when he landed the vacant lead guitar spot on the David Lee Roth band following Steve Vai’s exit, which was the most coveted guitar gig in the world at that time, he was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. He was forced to pull out of the outfit just before his first tour and moved back in with his parents in Richmond, California as he rapidly lost the use of most of his muscles.

This documentary, as any good one should, relies on the strength of its protagonist. Jason Becker is a sweet kid, he is affable, charming, cool and enormously gifted, yet he is also as humble as they come. Act I chronicles his youth and quick rise. After spending a bit of time with such an endearing character, the events of his subsequent downfall are devastating. However, despite his enormous setback, Becker never loses his passion for music and his appetite for life. With the help of a loving network of family, friends and caregivers, he continues to compose music and becomes an inspiration for others.

As a documentarian Vile wisely stays out of the spotlight. His approach in the construction of the narrative and it’s editing is quietly effective if unremarkable. Thankfully, the film steers clear of any overt sentimentalism, instead allowing us to come to our own conclusions. Vile clearly understands the power of his protagonist’s character and story. In this instance, less is indeed more.

Rather than an extraordinary example of documentary filmmaking, Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet features a great subject with a story that deserves to be heard. Becker is an engaging character whose life’s events are both heartbreaking and uplifting. Well worth it, even if shred guitar doesn’t quite fit in with your musical tastes!


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