The Devil and Daniel Johnston

The Devil and Daniel Johnston (2005) movie poster

(2005) dir. Jeff Feuerzeig
viewed: 09/25/06

Madness and genius.  Daniel Johnston seems to exemplify this duality.  Though genius may be a bit of a strong term for him (he is clearly multi-talented and has often bursted with creativity), he certainly exemplifies the madness part.

This is a well-constructed documentary that utilizes home footage, lots of voice cassette recordings, as well as present day interviews with people in and around the life of Daniel Johnston, a fringe-y folksy musician who never really flirted with mainstream success but remained a cult figure to lots of better-known musicians.  From his childhood creativity to his drug experimentation, Johnston’s life and mentality quickly spiral out of control.  He is diagnosed as bi-polar but often seems totally delusional and schizophrenic.

It’s interesting from a lot of angles: his family’s approach to caring for him, his experience on medication, his art, his manias, his highly religious upbringing and nature.  It’s a strange, compelling exploration.

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