The Devil and Daniel Johnston Jeff Feuerzeig

The Devil and Daniel Johnston Jeff Feuerzeig
Eccentric underground singer-songwriter and celebrated outsider artist Daniel Johnston has always been a fascinating character for his wildly imaginative music and art, however, the mental illness he’s suffered from has never before been examined to the extent that it has in this documentary.

Jeff Feuerzeig, the man behind the 1993 Half Japanese doc The Band That Would Be King, has uncovered such an interesting subject for his film that, at times, it’s difficult to believe what is laid out in front of your eyes. From his humble upbringing in Sacramento, California by god-fearing parents and his four siblings, Johnston was a black sheep who found an outlet as a teenager making innovative films with his Super-8 camera and in his unique style of drawing. However, as he left his teens, Johnston found himself changing, and eventually succumbing to an illness that would never leave him. One that would both inspire and devastate his creative output.

The Devil and Daniel Johnston might be a documentary and one of the year’s best, but at the same time it’s also one of the year’s most fascinating dramas. Feuerzeig has thrown everything, including the kitchen sink, into this film, collecting stark video footage of Johnston throughout his life (and inspiringly re-enacting the missing bits), along with a number of audio tapes that reveal some forthright info that at times, send shivers down your spine.

From his disastrous trip to NYC to hang out with Sonic Youth to the snippets of his college crush Laurie (which are accompanied by discomfited accounts of his undying love for her) and his manic outbursts damning Satan, the Johnston family’s extensive vault was completely looted. As well, the director has interviewed all of the important figures in Daniel’s life (minus Laurie), which helps encapsulate his tragedy, most effectively through the eyes of his father, who nearly died at the hands of his son.

This is an arresting film that gives an exhaustive look at an under-appreciated genius in a masterfully objective way. (Mongrel Media)