Wow. Life. Support. Music. is quite a documentary. I think it’s hard not to be moved by this stirring story of a totally decent guy (and a great musician) who collapses onstage with a near-fatal brain hemorrhage. The man, Jason Crigler, and his family are sympathetic enough, and the narrative arc is intensely dramatic, but I think there’s something else that’s at play here: the film is oral history at its best.
Director Eric Daniel Metzgar signals early on to the viewer that this is primarily a story being told by the people who know Jason: the screen shows a talking head in a box, retelling an incident. Then, another box appears with another talking head, and so on, until there are several people speaking, practically finishing each other’s sentences. Although Metzgar doesn’t return to this visual motif, the rest of the film maintains this structure of people telling different parts of the same story, that of Jason’s recovery.
I’m currently writing an oral history for Spin Magazine, so I can appreciate the skill and the hard work it takes to weave together these voices. It certainly helps that Jason’s family is hyper-articulate. The modern tradition of oral histories is rooted in the work of Studs Terkel during the Great Depression, and, more recently, was well applied by Legs McNeil (Studs and Legs sound like names cut from the same cloth, no?) in his book about the history of punk. But there’s something especially appropriate about Metzgar’s use of the form here in this heartbreaking depiction of a guy whose memory went blank for about a year and the people who were there to help him, and who remember what he went through.