The life of Daniel Johnston is one of legend. Were this not a documented case, one would likely not believe it as true – the story would make a great movie (not just documentary) or book. In some ways, Daniel Johnston can be considered the Forrest Gump of the music industry, having gone from an unknown artist and musician to one of mythical fame; whose disabilities never overshadowed his genius.
First and foremost there is his illness – a manic personality. His songs and art reflect this nature, going from mildly produced to barely audible. While the recordings lack the production of many supposedly great musicians, Johnstonâ€™s songwriting ability more than makes up for it. It is no coincidence that his songs have been covered by the likes of Death Cab For Cutie, TV On The Radio, Beck, Bright Eyes, The Flaming Lips, Tom Waits and Teenage Fanclub. And it’s no surprise that this list could go on forever.
The Devil & Daniel Johnston is a recount of Johnstonâ€™s life. The soundtrack consists primarily of Johnstonâ€™s songs, from the upbeat â€œCasper The Friendly Ghostâ€ to the painful â€œStory Of An Artistâ€ to the genius â€œWalking The Cowâ€. Covering his early childhood days through present time, the documentary leaves almost no one out. There are interviews with friends and family, from the joyous times recounting homemade childhood movies to the highly emotional mental breakdowns.
This movie – no, documentary – is brilliant. It is funny and heartbreaking and bizarre. It is a must-see.
This review was originally published May 22, 2007 on the old version of FensePost.