The Devil and Daniel Johnston Jeff Feuerzeig

The Devil and Daniel Johnston Jeff Feuerzeig
Daniel Johnston is a filmmaking treasure trove. This documentary tells the extraordinary story of the underground icon’s life dealing with mental illness while expressing himself through a wide assortment of art, primarily music. Building a prolific career out of lo-fi home recordings, which eventually landed him a major label deal and mountains of respect for his distinct outsider artistic vision, Johnston is deserving of Feuerzeig’s attention. His constant battles with his inner demons are on full display for all to see, as is his irrepressible (and heartbreaking) love for a college crush and unfortunate reliance on his aged parents. As inspiring as it is devastating, Johnston’s narrative is compelling stuff, which in part is thanks to his family’s astonishing collection of old home movies and audio cassettes. Feuerzeig and producer Henry S. Rosenthal’s commentary gives a personal touch, allowing the pair to expound upon why Daniel is so important ("He’s our Bob Dylan”), while delving even deeper into this already naked account. Daniel’s audio diaries provide even more of a character study, showing a young man clearly in a world of his own and deeply wounded for it. Like any good doc, the deleted scenes are worthwhile and were clearly only chopped to shorten the film. Included in this is Daniel presenting his homemade film (with vocals and sound effects), It Must Be Monday, which as the commentary points out, is a great piece of lo-fi filmmaking portraying his perception of teenage life in the household. His legendary WFMU radio performance is included, which reveals just how important being an entertainer and star was to him. But the best special feature, and perhaps the most heartening moment of all, is the reunion between Daniel and long-lost love Laurie Allen after 26 years. Plus: Sundance featurette, "Cinema of Daniel Johnston.” (Sony)