Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet Review

The film has just ended, the credits are beginning to flood up the screen and I’ve bolted from my seat and am already half way out the door.

That’s not because Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet is awful and I’m sprinting to beat my fellow reviewers to the bar, but because I don’t want anyone to see me in my current state.

Though I’ve never been all that sophisticated anyway, at the moment I’m a distance from feeling glamorous.

Snot bubbles remain trapped in my goatee while the tears that have been falling from my cheeks for the last half hour stain my shirt, reminding me of London’s beautiful summer weather.

Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet is the inspiring, tender, whimsical and endlessly kind biopic of rock’s once promised future guitar king, Jason Becker.

I guess the title kind of gives it away.

Directed by talented new comer Jesse Vile, this documentary charts the story of how a nineteen year old boy from Richmond, California landed one the most coveted gigs in rock history; and what happened to him afterwards.

Beginning with a scruffy yet handsome young man adorned by a curly mop of black hair rocking out on guitar with his uncle, Vile offers up an incredibly intimate introduction to Jason Becker.

Aloof, yet charming and eminently watchable, what’s most striking about this home video is how unbelievably talented Becker is on guitar.

We then take in a rapid-fire montage of Jason’s life, starting with him swanning about as an adorable child, before taking in his adolescence as he hangs out with friends and learns to play guitar.

Then we see Jason as he is today; a man in his early forties, confined to a wheelchair and unable to speak or move for the last two decades.

One week after being landing the coveted role of lead guitarist for ex-Van Halen singer David Lee Roth, Becker is diagnosed with motor neurone disease, a condition that slowly paralyses the sufferer’s muscles whilst leaving their mind intact.

Expected to be dead within five years, Becker is one of the longest living survivors what’s more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease in the states after the baseball player who suffered the same fate.

Jesse Vile proves to be a master story teller, creating a powerful narrative that’s both informative and entrancing.

Having been briefly introduced to Jason as he currently is during the opening scene, he soon becomes a ghost in Not Dead Yet in a blur of talking heads; always spoken about but never shown.

Unable to speak with his own voice, Vile weaves together a thousand voices to tell Jason’s tale instead with humility and tenderness.

So the first three quarters of this documentary involves Jason’s friends and family, including legendary rockers Steve Vai and Marty Friedman, painting a picture of a humble man who wanted to change the world through his music.

One of the most beautiful things about this film is the love and admiration that shines through from everyone who talks about Jason.

For the last quarter, Vile lets the former guitar prodigy take centre stage to reclaim his own identity; and Jason Becker is still funny, making music and very much Not Dead Yet.

It’s at this point that the documentary truly blossoms, and I lost control of my tear ducts.

As we get to watch Jason’s struggle to achieve his own dreams, communicating by spelling out words with eye movements, we also learn of how he helps to promote and encourage talent in others.

Even being trapped within his own body hasn’t robbed Becker of his human spirit, or his desire to carry on being the same person he was before he was diagnosed.

Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet isn’t just a story about a man overcoming insurmountable odds to achieve his dreams; ok it is that, but it’s so much more too.

It’s a film that asks all of us to look inside ourselves and find our own dreams and figure out how we can realise them if we really commit ourselves.

And after my closing credits sprint, maybe, just maybe, you’ll be seeing me at the opening ceremony for the next Olympics.

Shelton Lindsay

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Dates ‘n stuff

November 2012