The Devil & Daniel Johnston Review

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A documentary about underground musician/outsider/artist Daniel Johnston, who, while dogged by serious mental problems, has pursued a largely unnoticed musical career. With his subject’s blessing and involvement, director and friend Jeff Feuerzeig charts


The oft-observed partnership between genius and insanity has never been as painfully apparent as in the case of the ultimate cult singer-songwriter, Daniel Johnston. The fact this recording artist can seemingly neither sing nor play any instrument to anything approaching conventional levels of competence may leave some questioning the genius element, but ardent admirers maintain that this manic-depressive reclusive, whose oeuvre has been largely recorded in his bedroom on C90s between stints in psychiatric institutions, is the van Gogh of the US folk art scene.

Aided by copious interviews, extensive home video and even some of Johnston’s own amazingly competent teenage gonzo short films, director and fan Jeff Feuerzeig has little trouble in constructing a full and flowing document of a life that veers from flipping burgers at McDonald’s to selling corndogs at the circus, from dropping far too much acid to deliberately crashing his dad’s aeroplane.

It’s a little ragged at times, and occasionally skirts dangerously close to sycophancy. But regardless of your take on his talent, Johnston’s remarkably consistent, honest and unaffected lyrics — the unfiltered outpourings of a tortured soul — help propel an affecting narrative towards an appropriately bittersweet finale.

Occasionally slides into a breathless fan tribute, but nonetheless an affectionate and candid portrait of a troubled artist.