The Devil and Daniel Johnston: Directed by Jeff Feuerzeig

Daniel Johnston’s music has been covered by Tom Waits, Pearl Jam, The Flaming Lips and Wilco. He sings like a squeaky 11 year old and can barely strum a guitar, yet he’s been acclaimed an American original/genius since pushing his way onto an MTV broadcast from Austin in the mid 80’s. However, it’s his unrelenting vulnerability to exposing his inner demons, all related to his mental illness that has made Johnston an underground legend.

The Devil and Daniel Johnston, is a raw documentary on the life of Johnston, the youngest of five in a strict Christian household who grows from an aspiring cartoonist to a cult favorite. It was his forward songwriting that sparked Kurt Cobain to often wear a Johnston t-shirt during Nirvana’s early ninety’s hey-day.

Director Jeff Feuerzeig – who earned a best director award at Sundance for the film – was given access to Johnston’s taped conversations with himself and his home movies. Battling his manic depression, the artist is portrayed as both brilliant and psychotic, as the viewer relives his creative high points and his very scary personal lows. We revisit Johnston’s “demise” from well-rounded child to a loose cannon of erratic unpredictability, whom continually landed himself in mental institutions. Use of LSD and marijuana further contributes to Johnston’s erratic behavior as a threatening member of society who eventually grows an affinity for the devil.

Through all his pain, Johnston continues to make “brilliant” music in the eyes of his peers and critics, while his drawings that incorporate figures of boxers, Casper the Ghost and Captain America awe art enthusiasts alike. However, one has to wonder how many recluse Johnston’s are out there in society that haven’t been discovered. Call him “almost famous," yet Daniel Johnston will certainly go down as a legend in his own right.


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