Reviews

Jesse Vile

USA, 2012

Credits

Review by Victoria Large

Posted on 16 May 2012

Source Projected DVD

Categories The 2012 Independent Film Festival Boston

There’s a point near the end of director Jesse Vile’s documentary Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet when the titular musician, speaking through his father Gary, insists that he’s not interested in being seen as a source of wisdom, adding that he’d rather “be like the gross dad on Family Guy.” It’s a gently funny moment that underscores something endearing about the film itself: Vile’s documentary doesn’t make ham-fisted attempts to deliver an inspiring message. Instead, it focuses on what Becker’s mother Pat calls a single “tiny story” that happens to be quite moving.

Heavy metal fans will know the name Jason Becker. A guitar prodigy who had released two albums with his band Cacophony and an additional solo record all before the age of twenty, Becker had just earned a coveted place replacing Steve Vai in David Lee Roth’s band when he was diagnosed with amyothropic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and doctors predicted that he only had a few years left to live. Becker was able to finish an album with Roth, but his illness forced him to quit the band when it came time to tour.

Vile recounts these events using fresh interview footage as well as a wealth of archival material, and the result is powerful enough to impact the uninitiated as well as the guitarist’s fans. Becker’s virtuosity and passion are obvious in performance footage dating back to his school days, and Vile also nails the feeling of youthful exuberance attached to Becker’s early successes. For example, there’s wonderfully goofy footage of Becker and Cacophony co-guitarist Marty Friedman during a photo shoot for the band, working hard to perfect their heavy metal posturing.

Of course, as the film’s title plainly indicates, Becker did not die in the nineties as his doctors predicted that he would. Now in his forties, Becker has not only lost the ability to play his guitar, but also to walk and to speak. However, Vile shows us how Becker has continued to live his life and compose his music, both with the help of unwavering support from his family and friends. Becker communicates through a form of sign language (using his just his eyes) that was developed by his father; and he’s on a special diet of food that his former fiancée Serrana Pilar continues to prepare for him. In the film, the rallying of people around Becker is as moving as the musician’s own extraordinary perseverance.

IFFB has a history of programming worthwhile music docs, and this one stands out for its compelling subject matter. Vile has a rich story to tell here, but he deserves credit for neither dwelling on what Becker has lost nor milking his latter day achievements – including the release of new music – for sticky sentimentality. Becker’s story gets the sensitive, measured treatment that it deserves.

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