Reviews:: The Devil and Daniel Johnston

A night of herohill redesign quickly turned into a night of watching The Devil and Daniel Johnston. First things first: Although Daniel Johnston was a musician and an artist, this documentary is not about his art. It's about his personal demons. Writer/director Jeff Feuerzeig set out to tell a story, and boy did he ever.

It's nearly impossible to decide if Daniel was a musical genius (after hearing his songs tackled by fantastic artists I would lean towards the yes side of the argument) or simply a cult hero who came around at the perfect time and was propelled to fame as a result of his mind state. For the purpose of this film, it doesn't matter. From an early age, Daniel recorded everything on tape, and the unique looks into his frail psyche are the most chilling aspect of this powerful film. No matter how manic and detached he becomes, his tape recordings are lucid descriptions of his thoughts.

Driven by his quest for fame and hindered by manic depression, Daniel Johnston's music and personality pushed him towards stardom. However it also fueled his mental instability. Whether it was obsessing over a woman for years (his art school muse - Laurie - who was the subject of thousands of songs), or ignoring his medication to bolster his performances, Daniel understood his personality was more important than his actual music. He became famous for his mystique, not his music.

Daniel recorded his songs on tapes. Not exactly a demo tape per say, because he couldn't really replicate the sounds. If he wanted to make a tape for someone he had to sing the whole thing from start to finish, so each tape was completely unique. The songs used simple, undistinguishable guitar chords, but the end result made people take notice. Kurt Cobain. Jad Fair. Moe Tucker. Sonic Youth. MTV.

Without a doubt, the most compelling aspect of this film was Daniel's battle with his illnesses. Manic attacks. A constant battle with Satan and reality. I don't want to spoil the film by describing the whole plot, but if you didn't know this story was real, you couldn't possibly believe it. True genius lies on the edge of insanity, and this film lets you decide if Daniel is teetering on the edge or falling hopelessly over it.

This film is worth watching if you love, hate or have never heard Daniel's music.

Trailer:: Download it here
MP3:: King Kong - Tom Waits (Daniel Johnston cover)

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