THE DEVIL AND DANIEL JOHNSTON
A Portrait of the Artist as a Manic Depressive Christian
Release Date: March 31, 2006
Audience: Teenagers and adults
Runtime: 115 minutes
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Director: Jeff Feuerzeig
Executive Producer: Ted Hope
Producer: Henry S. Rosenthal
Address Comments To:Michael Barker and Tom Bernard
Sony Pictures Classics
(Sony Pictures Entertainment)
550 Madison Avenue, 8th Floor
New York, NY 10022
Phone: (212) 833-8833
Web Page: http://www.sonyclassics.com
After falling in love with a young woman who didn’t return the favor, Daniel runs off on a moped and joins a carnival. He then lands in Austin, Texas without any money. With help from his brother and two sisters, he manages to record a series of albums on homemade cassettes, which he begins to hand out. Daniel achieves some notoriety on MTV and with people like Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, David Bowie, Tom Waits, and Beck, but his manic depression, fueled by some experimentation with LSD, leads to violent episodes and trips to the mental ward. His songs and drawings are filled with warnings about the Devil, and occasional references to Jesus Christ. Now in his mid 40s, he lives with his parents, with whom he has established a level of peace and creativity, but, apparently, not without medication.
It is hard to see the alleged genius in Daniel Johnston’s raw, amateurish songs and drawings, but it does occasionally peek through the fog. Regrettably, despite the positive Christian references in Daniel’s life now, this documentary only superficially explores the issue of David’s faith. It avoids any discussion of whether Daniel’s apparent conversion to Christ has helped improve his mental stability and creativity. Although Daniel seems to be a Christian now, his theology appears to suffer from a lack of intelligent thought or biblical direction. The movie also admits that Daniel is a little obsessed with the Devil than he is with Jesus Christ, who overcomes the Devil.
It’s hard to really say what the truth is, however, because this documentary is more concerned with the secular aspects of Daniel’s life, his illness and the weird qualities of his art. Thus, despite a couple attempts at interpretation, the ultimate meaning of Daniel’s life and Daniel’s art eludes the filmmakers and eludes the movie’s viewers as well. The movie offers too many unanswered questions, not the least of which is why some people love Daniel’s work so much. Of course, Daniel never seems to have enough money to give his work the kind of professional sheen it obviously needs.
It is hard to see the alleged genius in Daniel Johnston’s raw, amateurish songs and drawings, but it does occasionally peek through the fog. Regrettably, despite the positive Christian elements in Daniel’s life now, this documentary only superficially explores the issue of David’s faith. The movie also contains some strong foul language, brief nudity and drug references, so extreme caution is advised