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With Jim Sabatini


The Devil and Daniel Johnston

The Devil and Daniel Johnston

Rated: PG-13 
Reviewed by: Jim  
Release date: April 7, 2006 Released by: Sony Pictures Classics

This haunting documentary from Jeff Feuerzeig is an insightful mosaic into underground artist, disturbed singer-songwriter Daniel Johnston.

One doesn't have to like the work of Johnston to see what this self-acknowledged "manic depressive with grand illusions" was like as he produces enormous amounts of folk songs and cartoon art.

Feuerzeig reveals the oddly irrepressible man through so much current and archival footage, as well as Johnston's cassette diaries. It's done in such a loving way that unfortunately will probably engage mostly his ardent followers.

Imprisoned and having spent time in mental rehab facilities, Johnston found some commercial success in the 1980's. He was admired by many, including David Bowie and Sonic Youth. Kurt Cobain, given some cinematic surreal treatment by Gus Van Sant in Last Days, helped bring notice to Johnston by wearing a t-shirt with one of his drawings on it.

Though Daniel had a substantial career with two record companies biding over a contract for him, many viewers may ponder how he keeps being referred to as a musical genius. What's really felt in this sharply illustrated documentary with visual art and music is the support system around Daniel. The interconnection of his illness and "prolific" talent is something that is cumulatively felt.

Bill and Mabel are Johnston's current senior-citizen parents. These "right-wing Christians" deeply influenced their son whose drawings and songs expressed a Biblical conflict between good and evil. These aging folks show unconditional love throughout his struggles as Daniel becomes obsessed with casting out his personal demons. This lengthy commentary on this rather unstable outsider is sympathetic and captivating in finding a unity between insanity, artistry, and love.

  Frank Chris Tony Jim Howard Jennifer Kathleen  Avg. 
The Devil and Daniel Johnston       B+       B+

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