A review of ďThe Devil and Daniel JohnstonĒ by Jeanne Aufmuth


Stars: ***

Rating: PG-13 for language and disturbing images

Run Time: 1 hour, 50 minutes



††††††††† Daniel Johnston is an unsung genius, the underground visionary youíve never heard of but should have. Artist, musician, and songwriter, Daniel is an indie-cult renaissance man who lives each day on the cutting edge of brilliant creativity while battling the most challenging psychological gift of all: manic-depression.

††††††††† Growing up in a fanatically religious family in Virginia this handsome prodigy harbored dreams of becoming the next John Lennon. Or perhaps Lennon himself. What seemed like enchanting idiosyncrasies turned dusky and foreboding as Daniel struggled with debilitating mood-swings and butted up against the heavy moral philosophizing of his mother, who branded him an unprofitable servant of the Lord.

††††††††† Through a well-cobbled series of home movies and recordings, startling artistís renderings and personal interviews director Jeff Feuerzeig opens the doors to Danielís constricted, depressing world. As his illness progresses we are drawn into his ďbrilliantĒ performances at underground music fests, his curious journey defined by artistic expression and a raw but real feeling of an utter disconnection to reality.

††††††††† Itís apparent that something is dreadfully wrong with Daniel Johnston. His cult following grows in equal measure to the unruly manner that takes over when you least expect it, leaving Daniel to babble in rhyme and puns for hours on end. Danielís doddering delusions of satanic conspiracies are terribly sad yet perversely fascinating, even as they become eerily and obnoxiously monotonous.

††††††††† To be perfectly honest Iím hard-pressed to understand Daniel Johnstonís appeal. His lyrics are consistently childish and his vocal delivery a reedy wail reminiscent of nails on a chalkboard. But his interminable journey to the depths of madness turn petty provocations into a delicious character study that attracts and repels.