The Devil and Daniel Johnston

"Excellent"

The Devil and Daniel Johnston Review


I wasn't properly introduced to the music of Daniel Johnston until my junior year of college, in a film theory class of all places. A classmate was trying to make a presentation on abstract storytelling (I think) and was playing his song "King Kong" along with the 1933 classic. It was an interesting experience and the song was primitive enough to get me interested in his music. With underground classics like "Walking the Cow" and "Funeral Home," Johnston has become an idol to a host of indie rock musicians and to a small army of fans who believe him to be the most talented songwriter living today.

Born in Sacramento and a resident of the west/southwest for most of his life, Johnston grew up in love with everything that could be construed as art. He obsessed over the art of comic books and made home movies constantly. Eventually, he started writing songs, many inspired by the unrequited love of Laurie, a girl who married a mortician and posed in many of his films. As life went on, Daniel became more and more obsessed with religion and the devil, leading him to alienate friends and families.

Johnston was diagnosed as manic-depressive and his persistence at being famous (partially fueled by his obsession with the Beatles) drove him to go on MTV. As he grew older, he became more and more of a legend: being sent to a mental home three separate times, becoming close friends with Jad Fair and Sonic Youth and having his t-shirt worn by Kurt Cobain for most of the pre-publicity and post-publicity for In Utero. He often attacked people for no reason -- family and friends, including his close friend and manager Jeff Tartakov, and was responsible for a plane crash on his father's plane. He currently still lives at home and records with a punk band.

Director Jeff Feuerzeig has bypassed simple fan admiration with this documentary and gone deep into the life of this troubled troubadour. In contrast to Jonathan Demme's simple, stellar Neil Young: Heart of Gold, Feuerzeig goes in headlong and uses Johnston's songs as simple landmarks, peppering the demented life filled with self-taped confessionals and Super-8 footage. As a stylist, Feuerzeig is a man of rare talent and startlingly original storytelling. He reenacts events in original ways, whether using a handheld to explain Johnston's forcing an elderly lady to jump out her own window or his eerie evocation of mental-asylum delirium through a slow tracking shot towards a soda machine. If Johnston is Joe Buck, Feuerzeig is his rambling, audacious Enrico Rizzo.

As his touching "Some Things Last a Long Time" drifts in and out of the film's soundtrack, we're welcomed into a world that is often misrepresented: a tortured artist's life. Films like Walk the Line, Ray, and Great Balls of Fire are no doubt entertaining, but they don't reach down into those people's obsessions (women, drugs, fame) and really show it to you. The Devil and Daniel Johnston somehow has the power to be both emotionally resonant and completely entertaining without copping out of any faction of Johnston's life. Feuerzeig's film, whether you're a fan of Johnston's or not, is a definitive statement of an artist who can't get rid of the monsters in his head.



The Devil and Daniel Johnston

Facts and Figures

Run time: 110 mins

In Theaters: Friday 5th May 2006

Distributed by: Sony Picture Classics

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 89%
Fresh: 94 Rotten: 12

IMDB: 8.0 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Jeff Feuerzeig

Producer: Henry S. Rosenthal

Starring: as Himself

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Julieta Movie Review

Julieta Movie Review

Iconic Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar is back with another powerfully complex female-centred drama, along the...

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping Movie Review

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping Movie Review

An astute satire of the pop music business, this raucous mock-documentary is consistently hilarious from...

War Dogs Movie Review

War Dogs Movie Review

Based on a rather astounding true story, this comedy-drama centres on two stoners who landed...

Swallows and Amazons Movie Review

Swallows and Amazons Movie Review

After a number of films, TV series and stage adaptations, Arthur Ransome's beloved 1930 novel...

David Brent: Life on the Road Movie Review

David Brent: Life on the Road Movie Review

The original BBC sitcom The Office ran for 14 episodes from 2001 to 2003, and...

The Childhood of a Leader Movie Review

The Childhood of a Leader Movie Review

Bold and intelligent, this dark drama is a challenging portrait of the making of an...

Pete's Dragon Movie Review

Pete's Dragon Movie Review

This hugely enjoyable adventure is a loose remake of the 1977 Disney hit that blended...

Advertisement
The Shallows Movie Review

The Shallows Movie Review

With a simple premise and plenty of visual style, Spanish filmmaker Jaume Collet-Serra (Unknown) takes...

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates Movie Review

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates Movie Review

Watching this gross-out comedy, it's clear that the gifted cast and crew had a great...

Nerve Movie Review

Nerve Movie Review

With a premise that feels almost eerily current, this stylish thriller revolves around a phone...

The Carer Movie Review

The Carer Movie Review

Brian Cox gets the role of a lifetime in this warm comedy about living life...

Born to Be Blue Movie Review

Born to Be Blue Movie Review

Writer-director Robert Budreau takes a stylised approach to this biopic of the legendary jazz artist...

Jason Bourne Movie Review

Jason Bourne Movie Review

It's been nine years since Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass collaborated on The Bourne Ultimatum,...

The Commune [Kollektivet] Movie Review

The Commune [Kollektivet] Movie Review

Veteran Danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg (Festen, The Hunt) returns to a smaller homegrown story after...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.