What movie was that...?

20 June 2010

The Devil and Daniel Johnston

directed by Jeff Feuerzeig

Hipsters, audiophiles and the outcasts who know and love Daniel Johnston loved and will continue to love this film even if it was shit on a plate. Luckily for you, film lover who may not recognize the name Daniel Johnston, the name that has become synonymous with intensely honest, revealing and heart bending music, the doc about this manic depressive who has created some of the most interesting music of the past half century is not shit on a plate. In fact, it’s quite the opposite: a gripping and devastating portrait of an artist as a young artist, an artist struggling to reconcile his obsessions, oddity, compulsions and fears through any means necessary. Jeff Feuerzeig’s doc opens with an aging, overweight Johnston singing one of my favorite songs (Devil Town), then slowly takes the audience into a world of paranoia, anxiety and pure artistic flourishes that bewilder as much as they inspire. Daniel Johnston, like him or not, is a true artist who makes art for himself and no one else, much like Jandek or Johnny Dowd. Artists who create as catharsis, who seem to say “If you like it, great. If not, no skin off my back,” seem untethered by convention, able to drift as far as they wish from the axis of normality, and the result is overwhelmingly fascinating. But what I love about Johnston above the aforementioned is the utter honesty. The blood on the page sans any pretext sincerity of such hurt, fear and loss is enough to break your heart if you didn’t feel so damn close to it. You have to listen to Johnston in context of Johnston’s canon; you can’t just pluck a song out of the ether and evaluate its merits. It will either click or it won’t, but my guess is that, with an open mind, it will click with a vengeance. If you haven’t delved into Johnston's strange world before, use the doc as a springboard. It will help.

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