Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet (15)

Film image
Jesse Vile
Jason Becker

The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner16/11/2012

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 90 mins

Part rockdoc and part human endurance story, this is a powerfully moving and ultimately inspirational documentary, though it's also frustratingly light on personal detail.

What's it all about?
Directed by Jesse Vile, Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet tells the remarkable story of Jason Becker, who was feted at a young age as a guitar prodigy and whose musical gifts were likened to those of Mozart. After forming the band Cacophony with future Megadeth guitarist Marty Friedman, Becker was about to collaborate with former Van Halen vocalist David Lee Roth on a solo album that would have brought him widespread acclaim, but he was struck down with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (aka Lou Gehrig's disease or ALS), aged just 20, losing both voice and movement at an extremely rapid pace.

However, looked after by his doting parents and a succession of carers-slash-girlfriends, Becker devised both a system of communication (related to the movement of his eyes and a specially arranged letter chart) and a computer-based system that allowed him to continue to make music.

The Good
The film is told through a combination of talking head interviews (Jason's parents, his brother, various musicians and friends, a rock journalist who spotted Becker's talent early on, two carers-slash-girlfriends), photographs, archive clips and an impressive amount of home movie footage displaying Becker's phenomenal talent; charmingly, the film is bookended by two grainy VHS clips of Becker rocking out with his uncle as a teenager. Towards the end of the film, we also spend time with Becker himself (now 43) as he composes music, chats with friends (there's an amusing bit where he makes his father say rude words, since his father dictates Jason's speech) and mentors aspiring young guitarists.

Despite the film's title, the film is structured so that if you're unfamiliar with Becker's story then the developments come as a surprise, to the point where you start wondering why there are no talking head clips of Becker in the present day, early on. In fact, it's almost structured as a death/resurrection story, since at least one of Becker's school friends recounts how he was shocked to receive an email from Becker, having previously believed he had passed away.

The Bad
Unfortunately, the relative lack of contribution from Becker himself (even the home movie footage doesn't really showcase much of his personality) means that the film is frustratingly light on personal detail (his relationships are completely glossed over, for example) and we only get the briefest of glimpses of his personality (teasing his father etc), with most of the character description being relayed second hand.

Worth seeing?
Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet is an intriguingly structured documentary that's both deeply moving and powerfully inspirational, with Jason's story standing as a remarkable tribute to human endurance. Worth seeking out.

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Content updated: 23/07/2018 16:48

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