Big hair; tight pants; torn shirts. Heavy-metal is often remembered for looking slightly ridiculous and rarely is proper tribute paid to the undeniable talent of its greatest icons. Now, a new documentary changes all of that.
Jason Becker, the child prodigy and musical genius who transformed electric guitar before his 20th birthday, is surely one of history’s most exceptional and under-appreciated artists. Under-appreciated not least for his 22-year struggle against ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), making him one of the disease’s longest known survivors.
Aged just 19 and on the cusp of fulfilling his wildest dreams, Becker received the devastating diagnosis that would see him go from the world’s hottest guitarist to experiencing near-total paralysis in the space of a few short years. Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet tells his remarkable story of survival and dogged determination to continue composing music.
Director Jessie Vile, former producer of the Raindance Film Festival, has created a triumphant and inspirational testament to the life and work of Becker. Initially focusing on his promising childhood growing up in Richmond, California, Vile paints a detailed portrait of a gifted child as remembered and recorded by his family. Becker’s superhuman devotion to guitar is obvious when his mother tells us he had a small guitar especially for the car, just so he could practice at red lights. His mother, father, uncle and brother all remember recognising early on his insatiable appetite for music, yet their fond memories are bittersweet in light of the tragedy that befell them.
The talking heads are thankfully shown alongside the Becker family’s home videos, archive footage that lets the film go beyond the usual formula of interviews interspersed with clips of concerts and tours. This material allows Jesse to humanise Jason Becker where other directors may have settled for the shallow depths of idol-worship. There is ample opportunity to watch Becker relaxing with his family, cracking jokes and jamming with his brother, but this only makes his first steps into the limelight all the more awe-inspiring. The Clapton-esque performance at his high school talent show irrefutably establishes him as the coolest teenager ever.
In the same vein, witnessing the sheer glory of Becker’s talent renders the onset of ALS truly heart-breaking. With the artist robbed of his dreams, the world almost lost a potentially era-defining musician. Tragic as this is, it’s a testament to Vile’s empathy with Becker’s story that the sadness of the disease is not dwelt upon too long. As soon as possible, the film begins its examination of the performer’s near-miraculous determination to continue living a full life and creating the music central to his very existence. Totally paralysed except for his eyes, Becker and his dad developed a unique sign language so effective it resembles telepathy. Painstakingly plotting each note, Becker continues to astound those around him and fulfils his destiny to inspire the world.
This film is a must for anyone looking for something that breathes fresh life into the somewhat tired and formulaic genre of music documentary, for a film that goes beyond over-detailed examinations of music history to speak about the power and depth of the human spirit.
Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet is now out on DVD. You can order your copy by clicking here.
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