DVD The Devil and Daniel Johnston (DVD 15426),
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The Devil and Daniel Johnston
Region 1 USA/CA (
Although his appeal barely stretches beyond a small band of obsessives in the tight-knit indie-rock community, the turbulent career of singer-songwriter Daniel Johnston has had more highs and lows than most globetrotting rock stars. This film by director Jeff Feuerzeig offers a retrospective look at Daniel's life, forming an affecting picture of a truly talented man. Eschewing the opportunity to bring in a host of celebrities to wax lyrical about Daniel--of which there would be many: Nirvana, Beck, Sonic Youth, SIMPSONS creator Matt Groening, and many others are all devoted followers of the singer--Feuerzeig instead speaks to those who know (or knew) him best. So Daniel's parents, a former girlfriend, a former manager, and others all step forward to fill in the gaps in what becomes a remarkable story.
Feuerzeig's film shows how Daniel's battles with manic depression have blighted his chances of fully enjoying the fame that he desperately craves. Daniel himself does not speak to camera; instead he is heard through the mountain of audio cassettes on which he has obsessively recorded the key elements of his life. It all adds up to riveting viewing, with tales of an ill-fated major label deal in the grunge era, stints in and out of mental institutions, and Daniel's first acid trip at a Butthole Surfers show. What becomes abundantly clear is the love and devotion Daniel inspires in his family, friends, and followers. Feuerzeig is careful not to condescend to his subject, and notes how Daniel has enjoyed a latter-day renaissance as he enters his mid-40s. With new advances in medicine allowing him to tour, the art world snapping up his beautiful drawings, and a level of previously unthinkable stability entering his life, Feuerzeig leaves us on a high, as his lovingly crafted movie about this brightest of tragic stars winds to a satisfying conclusion.
- for thematic elements, drug content, and language including a sexual reference
Manufacturer Part Number (MPN): 15493
3 stars out of 4 -- "[T]he real heroes of this movie are Johnston's family, particularly his aging parents, who for all their heartbreak are palpably full of love and forbearance for their disturbed and yes, talented boy."
"[T]he manner in which extreme mental states can simultaneously stoke and inhibit artistic careers has rarely received a more dramatic reckoning."
"[F]ascinating and lovingly crafted..." -- Grade: B+
3.5 stars out of 4 -- "It's the way Feuerzeig walks with him on the line between creativity and madness that digs this haunting and hypnotic film into your memory."
"[A] moving portrait of the artist as his own ghost...[with] often heartbreakingly beautiful songs."
New York Times
3 stars out of 5 -- "Raiding a treasure trove of found footagedirector Jeff Feuerzeig guides the viewer through the turbulent life and times of his prolific subject."
"Johnston's manic energy and unstable thought processes leave an unmistakable imprint on both film and viewer."
Sight and Sound
4 stars out of 5 -- "Intimate, yet never voyeuristic....[A] powerfully sober biopic."
5 stars out of 5 -- "Both funny and moving, Feuerzeig's artfully assembled biopic gallops briskly along, fuelled by endless tragicomic anecdotes."
3 stars out of 5 -- "[U]ndoubtedly a sensitive and compelling portrait of a fascinating individual."
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