Borderlands (Zev Berman, 2007): 6.5/10

The Magic Flute (Ingmar Bergman, 1975): 7/10

La Guerre Est Finie (Alain Resnais, 1966): 7/10

Speed Racer (The Wachowski Brothers, 2008): 8/10


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Monday, October 30, 2006

The Devil & Daniel Johnston (Jeff Feuerzeig, 2005)




Daniel Johnston is a living indie legend, praised by everyone from Sonic Youth to Kurt Cobain to Jad Fair and is legendary in the indie singer-songwriter genre. In fact, it seems that modern freak folk founds its roots in Johnston's off-tune guitar playing and simple lyrics. But Daniel Johnston is seriously mentally ill, and the music that many found so inspiring was really an airing of the (literal) demons found inside him. Jeff Feuerzeig's documentary is in some ways an enlightening portrait of this sick artist, and in some ways a frustrating continuation of the legend that is Johnston, who today lives with his parents because he cannot take care of himself.

Through lots of interesting archival footage and interviews with those who knew him, a portrait of Johnston appears - at first, an artist making something new and unheard in the Austin scene of the mid-80s, and then more and more, a man obsessed with casting out the devil and seeing the devil following him at every turn. Johnston visits Sonic Youth's Steve Shelley in New York City, gets a recording session with Moe Tucker, drummer from the Velvet Underground, and yet still ruins the best opportunity of his life because he is too mentally ill to deal with it. As someone in the movie says, whenever things start getting good for Daniel, his illness (made worse by his refusal, often, to take his medication) ruins it all. It is frustrating for someone like me, who has experience with mental illness, to see people idolizing this man's demons. But again, like a friend of Johnston's says in the film, in history, people who prioritized mental health over genius are seen as philistines who don't understand the artistic mind; how can we say Johnston should get help over creating his music?

An interesting portrait of a very interesting man, but with a few problems. I would have definitely loved to see more interviews with Johnston himself; although Feuerzeig had access to Daniel, there are precious few moments of Daniel currently talking in the film. This adds to the legend of Daniel Johnston, and it's up to the individual to decide if that's a good or a damaging thing.

6.5/10

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Comments on "The Devil & Daniel Johnston (Jeff Feuerzeig, 2005)"

 

Blogger alexis olivia said ... (4:18 PM) : 

youre so WRITE on. i thought the film was really beautifully made and clearly with a lot of love. also the bit about Jiffy tartar sauce breaks my heART again and again. i need to figure out a way to get this to auto feed into LJ. <3 lex

 

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