|| Print ||
|Written by Taryn Cheal|
|Saturday, 19 May 2012 23:30|
Last week I attended a few showings of films at Vancouver's DOXA Documentary Film Festival, running from May 4-13. DOXA showed over 100 different films covering a huge range of topics included large personal vinyl collections, the Palestine-Israeli conflict, west coast architecture, and death. Read on for my final review.
The final film that I attended at the DOXA festival was easily my favorite and I would heartily recommend it to most people. It is entitled Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet, and tells the story of a near guitar god who, in 1990, at the age of 20, was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) and lost nearly all of his physical capabilities. I had not heard of Becker before this film, but the story sounded interesting, which turned out to be a massive understatement. The film chronicles Becker's life, focusing on his musical talent that emerged at a very young age. He had a natural ability to learn and master songs on the guitar by merely listening to them, and he then began to take classical guitar lessons, further improving his understanding of music. This combination of skills gave him a rare gift, especially in the world of metal where classical training does not often influence musicians. Becker could shred incredibly fast and also had a firm grasp of music theory.
The story is told mainly through familial interviews and it is evident that from a very young age Becker's parents supported his talents development. As a teenager he was connected with future Megadeth guitarist Marty Friedman and the two of them became close friends and recorded an album together. Becker's star rapidly rose as the metal community learned of his extreme talent and in 1989 he began work on his solo career. He then was selected as the lead guitarist for David Lee Roth's band, following in the footsteps of Eddie Van Halen and Steve Vai, essentially securing his place in history as a guitar god, however it was during this time that he was diagnosed with ALS and was barely able to complete recording one album, A Little Ain't Enough and was unable to go on tour with Roth's band. His condition progressively worsened until he was left immobile and mute with his family taking care of him.
At the time of his diagnosis, Becker was told that he had 3 to 5 years to live, but his family took every measure to keep him as healthy as possible, he is still alive today, over 20 years later. His father invented a means of communication where Jason is able to spell with his eyes, and he has also been able to continue to compose music with the help of his father and has continued to produce music from his immobile state. He seems to have come to terms with his life and has sought to make the most out of it in every way; he serves as a true inspiration and testament to overcoming the obstacles we face in life.
While his story is inspirational in and of itself, something that I found extremely interesting was how his family has always been a large and supportive part of his life. The film shows that they always encouraged him, whether the task was learning guitar or staying alive when the odds were stacked against him. When he was offered the record deal in his teens, his parents insisted that he finish high school before he left to record and with their support, he graduated six months early and with straight A's. No matter what, there was always love in their home and family which allowed him to thrive under such adverse conditions. Not only does his family take care of him and have given him the means to continue doing what he loves in life, they have give him an emotionally stable environment in which to deal with the reality that his life and talent were cut short in a lot of ways. Through their love and support he has been able to continue on living out his dream of being a musician despite his paralysis.
Another fun part of the film is that Becker was surprisingly upbeat and rather funny, making crude jokes and basically forcing his dad, who speaks for him, to talk about penises as much as possible. I found this to be one of the nicest parts of the film, that he has not lost his sense of humor, nor has he stifled his personality so that he can be an impressive inspiration, he simply continues to live as normally as he possibly can.
The film itself was visually stunning, full of family footage from throughout Becker's life, including his physical deterioration. The editing helped to make this more than a typical biographical documentary by animating old photos and blending art and Becker's story seamlessly. In every aspect this film had very high production value, which helped to better convey its powerful message of personal triumph against a harsh reality. All in all, it was the most satisfying of all the films I saw this week because it not only told a story, but conveyed how powerful the love of family can be without coming off as cheesy or insincere. At the end of my week of documentaries I feel that this one was the most successful because it did not preach, the cinematography was excellent and it presented itself primarily as a film. A few of the movies I saw seemed to sacrifice some of the stylistic qualities in favor of simply presenting a message, which does a disservice to the message because it becomes slightly boring or even distracting. Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet proved to me that it is very possible to create a documentary without adhering solely to the conventions of that genre; it can expand beyond them and become a film rather in the truest sense of the word.
Tags: als, david lee roth, documentary film, doxa, guitar gods, inspiration, jason becker, not dead yet, vancouver